Based on the duo’s album of the same name – which was released in 2010 and featured a host of guest vocalists, including Florence + The Machine’s Florence Welch, Santigold, and Tori Amos – Here Lies Love tells the sensational and true story of Imelda Marcos.
Marcos was the wife of dictator Ferdinand Marcos and the country’s “first lady” from 1965 to 1986. An all-Filipino cast, quickly shifting immersive stage design (stagehands in pink jumpsuits directed the crowd as the catwalk took on different configurations during the show) and state-of-the-art sound technology help bring the biography to life.
The Broadway Theatre, where the musical has been running in previews since June 17 before opening on July 20, has been transformed into a retro club, with the orchestra converted into a standing-room-only nightclub (all 900 of the seats that are typically housed there have been removed) under a towering mirror ball and fuschia neon lights in homage to Studio 54. Marcos often partied with celebrities at the legendary disco club and acted as one herself, dancing with Andy Warhol and getting The Beatles booted from the Philippines for not visiting her palace, as the people of her country lived under the dire circumstances of her husband’s reign.
As the actors portray her life, they intermingle with attendees, shaking their hands and dancing with them (on the night NME attended, Byrne himself was on the dancefloor) and making them part of the performance. L-Acoustics’ (the French sound-tech company designing sound experiences since 1984) L-ISA spatial sound system sonically tells the story as well, with more than 220 speakers to convey the emotions, drama, and rock-pop theatrics that take place throughout the musical.
“Here Lies Love is a unique show in which the audience blends with the performers,” Cody Spencer, the Sound Designer behind the musical, said. “The show can be experienced from the dance floor, from seats around the dance floor, or seated in a traditional setting.” Spencer said they chose L-ISA immersive sound so they “could provide the same enveloping immersive experience no matter where the audience is” in the theatre, giving attendees an experience that conveys the excitement and nuance of the show.
“I feel this is the future of sound and I am excited for people to hear the show in L-ISA immersive sounds,” he added. Despite the multiple options for seating for the musical and a large ensemble cast performing in different corners of the theatre at any given moment and even with actors making full use of the 360-degree environment, the sound throughout ‘Here Lies Love’ is crystal clear.
The musical was a hit off-Broadway a decade ago when Byrne first brought the immersive stage design idea to life and created the sugary pop ditties that soundtrack the story. Here Lies Love was previously held at the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art in 2012, New York’s Public Theater in 2013, London’s National Theater in 2014, and the Seattle Repertory Theater in 2017.
“I imagined it as being a theatrical story, a musical story being told in a discotheque and on little platforms around the periphery,” Byrne told NPR of the concept. Multiple screens replaying actual historical moments also tell the story of Marcos life in real-time.
Many of the lyrics written by Byrne are constructed from actual quotes from Imelda Marcos, including the album and musical’s title, which happen to be the words she once said she’d like to have inscribed on her gravestone. Last week (August 11), Nonesuch Records announced the first vinyl release of ‘Here Lies Love’, which is set to be released with newly written liner notes and Byrne’s illustrations of the story as well as archival photos.
According to a statement from Nonesuch, he also revealed what drew him to the project, the album and the bumpy road it took to launch it. “The story I am interested in is about asking what drives a powerful person-what makes them tick?” Byrne wrote in the album introduction. “How do they make and then remake themselves? I thought to myself, wouldn’t it be great if — as this piece would be principally composed of clubby dance music — one could experience it in a club setting? Could one bring a “story” and a kind of theatre to the disco? Was that possible? If so, wouldn’t that be amazing!”