Arielle Jacobs, center, and the cast of Broadway's 'Here Lies Love'
Arielle Jacobs, center, and the cast of Broadway’s ‘Here Lies Love.’ Photo by Billy Bustamante, Matthew Murphy, and Evan Zimmerman

The Rundown

As evidenced by its hefty $22 million price tag, the new Broadway bio-musical Here Lies Love wants you to be in awe of its opulence, but often at the cost of what’s underneath the visual spectacle. 

The costly production, which opens on July 20, is part of the recent trend of Broadway-bound historical pop concerts, a genre that includes the medieval girl group romp Six. This time, we’re transported to 20th-century Philippines to hear the tale of Imelda Marcos, the Filipino first lady who held enormous political influence in the Philippines and abroad, while also partying at Studio 54 with the likes of Andy Warhol and Liza Minnelli. 

Based on a 2010 concept album by David Byrne and Fatboy Slim and a previous run at Off-Broadway’s Public Theater, the immersive show finally arrives on Broadway with an innovative staging in which orchestra seating has been transformed into a massive dance floor, complete with shifting platforms that change positions throughout the performance. The musical also co-stars Conrad Ricamora, who played the HIV-positive character Oliver on the hit Viola Davis-fronted ABC show How to Get Away With Murder.

No Tea, No Shade

Conrad Ricamora, center, and the cast of 'Here Lies Love'
Conrad Ricamora, center, and the Broadway cast of ‘Here Lies Love.’ Photo by Billy Bustamante, Matthew Murphy, and Evan Zimmerman

Theatergoers seeking big emotions and a memorable score rendered through lovely voices are in luck: on a purely theatrical level, Here Lies Love delivers in a way that few shows currently on Broadway can rival. The cast belts and dances its way through a breezy 90 minutes as Marcos navigates young love, national turmoil, and a cheating husband, along with a political agenda and backlash from opposing parties, as the show in its latest moments pivots to the atrocities wrought by Marcos’ dictatorial reign, including police brutality, martial law, wrongful imprisonment of political opposition, and murder. 

If all that sounds like a lot for a Broadway show to tackle, especially one that is essentially a pop concert, that’s because it is. 

At some point, many theatergoers may question whether Here Lies Love should exist in its current form. There’s no shortage of media, even in the last year, that focuses on people who have done the unquestionable and the inhumane — Netflix’s Dahmer comes to mind. What Here Lies Love adds to that conversation is not whether this story should be told at all but whether the story is best told from this perspective. 

While Here Lies Love doesn’t shy away from its perspective on Marcos and even steps forward at the very end to warn about what it means that her son Bongbong is currently the country’s president, Byrne’s lyrics can feel a bit cheapened after bopping along with Imelda as she pivots between silencing political foes and hobnobbing with Studio 54’s glitterati. It’s reasonable to depict people doing bad things, and in fact, it is wholly necessary for a good, healthy artistic diet. Still, the musical will likely leave some queasy as they try to reconcile the human rights abuses on display with the show’s girlbossification of Marcos.

Let’s Have a Moment

Arielle Jacobs and the cast of Broadway's 'Here Lies Love'
Arielle Jacobs, center, and the cast of Broadway’s ‘Here Lies Love.’ Photo by Billy Bustamante, Matthew Murphy, and Evan Zimmerman

Broadway leading lady Lea Salonga (Once On This Island, Miss Saigon, Les Misérables) joined the production as a co-producer and lends her Tony-winning cache in the role of Aquino’s mother, Aurora, through August 13. Her song, “Just Ask the Flowers,” is the emotional pinnacle of the production.

The staging (Alex Timbers is credited for development and direction) is also a stand-out. The aforementioned central dance floor invites audiences to interact with the show in a brand new way, with some ticketholders pulled into the occasional live on-camera video feed meant to simulate campaigning politicians. The moving platforms require those with floor tickets to occasionally crane their necks to find the action, which feels more like an intentional choice than an inconsistency.

The Last Word

Arielle Jacobs as Imelda Marcos in Broadway's 'Here Lies Love'
Arielle Jacobs as Imelda Marcos in Broadway’s ‘Here Lies Love.’ Photo by Billy Bustamante, Matthew Murphy, and Evan Zimmerman

Here Lies Love reimagines the Broadway theatergoing experience with a catchy and danceable score and plenty of spectacle. But upon further reflection, its framing and point of view — particularly for those familiar with the Marcos regime — may unsettle some.  

“We’re not oblivious to what’s happening out there. And I know that there are a bunch of people who don’t like me at the moment,” Salonga said in a recent Playbill interview about the negative reactions to the show from the Filipino community. “That’s fine. I’m used to it. It’s OK.”

Imelda might feel the same.

Here Lies Love plays at the Broadway Theatre.

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