Review: “Here Lies Love” Reimagines Musical Theater
There is musical theater, and then there is Here Lies Love, the immersive multimedia event that has recently launched a commercially produced open-ended run at the Public Theater where it received rave reviews last year. And with good reason. With music and lyrics by David Byrne and Fatboy Slim (with additional music by Tom Gandy and J Pardo) and directed by Alex Timbers, Here Lies Love transforms and transcends the art form, carrying the audience along on an emotionally charged ride through the trials and tribulations of Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos—their meteoric rise to fame and power in the 1960s and their ultimate demise in 1983 as a result of the People Power Revolution.
Reconfiguring the Public’s LuEsther Theatre into a mosh pit of pop culture through moving platforms, neon lights, booming sound effects, video, and most importantly—a dynamic cast that weaves its way in and out of the action—Here Lies Love grabs a hold of you and doesn’t let go. Alex Timbers, who has brought us the inventive Peter and the Starcatcher and the overblown Broadway knock-out, ROCKY, strikes a keen balance between theatricality and emotion by blending (and occasionally overloading) sensory experiences that carry the story from Imelda’s humble beginnings through her peak of political fame and fortune and beyond. Don’t expect to sit comfortably for this tale, though. It’s standing-room-only as Imelda (Ruthie Ann Miles), Marcos (Jose Llana), and political opponent “Ninoy” Aquino, Jr. (Conrad Ricamora) and a hardworking ensemble of cast and crew manipulate the ever-changing space. Moving platforms force the audience into different configurations, each capturing a unique aspect of the storytelling.
Relying on live video feed as well as archival footage, the scenic, lighting, sound, and projection design effectively manipulate the space and throw the focus in an infinite number of directions. Timbers is tasked with managing all the stimuli and does so with great effect, drawing out nuanced and heartfelt performances from his lead actors. As Imelda, Ruthie Ann Miles is nothing short of captivating (in spite of the fact that she only wears one pair of shoes). Imagine Evita in overdrive and you’re moving in the right direction. As her power-hungry cheating husband Ferdinand Marcos, Jose Llana is magnetic on camera—somehow able to play intimately to the live video feed while simultaneously seducing the audience with suave-like stares. Conrad Ricamora as Aquino (who was Imelda’s boyfriend prior to becoming a political opponent) at times feels more boy band than revolutionary, but is equally as invested as his counterparts. The ensemble of 14 singer/actor/dancers run the gamut of talent, belting Byrne and Fatboy Slim’s score while capturing the culturally inspired choreography of Annie-B Parson.
Lest you think Here Lies Love is a Filipino version of Les Misérables, it is filled with as much joy and celebration as gravitas. Self-credited with the creation of karaoke and line dancing, the production embraces pop culture, using these elements as a means to further the action. From rags to riches, Here Lies Love tells a timeless tale snatched from the headlines of one of the world’s most enigmatic political power couples.
Here Lies Love
The Public Theater
425 Lafayette Street
Original cast album releases on May 6.
Matthew Wexler is the editor of The Broadway Blog. His work has appeared in Hemispheres, Passport Magazine, Every Day with Rachael Ray, Private Islands, among others. Follow him on Twitter at @roodeloo.