Imagine a musical about the one-time First Lady of the Philippines Imelda Marcos. Now imagine that show not as a standard Broadway musical but rather as, very specifically, a disco musical. Finally, imagine that disco musical performed in a 70’s style discotheque in downtown Manila.
That’s the theatrical conceit of David Byrne and Fat Boy Slim’s “Here Lies Love.”
After extended sold-out runs in New York City and London the last couple of years, “Here Lies Love” is extending its dance floor to an unrecognizable Seattle Repertory Theatre for a two-and-a-half-month run.
Making a huge financial investment, the Rep has ripped out all the seats in its main auditorium and transformed the place into an elaborate super-sized dance club, with most of the audience members standing on the dance floor, surrounded by flashing lights, video screens everywhere, a disco ball overhead, and 150 speakers carrying a peppy and pounding disco beat throughout the space.
Throw in a couple dozen actors singing and dancing on stages that are constantly re-configuring themselves in the midst of the audience and you have a good sense of the controlled chaos that is “Here Lies Love.”
The musical tells the tale of a romantic and political triangle between small-town beauty queen Imelda and two rising politicians, Ninoy Aquino and Ferdinand Marcos.
After a brief relationship with Aquino, Imelda ends up in a whirlwind relationship with Marcos that, after an 11-day courtship, ends in marriage.
Marcos is eventually elected president, Imelda becomes first lady and Aquino becomes the populist leader of the opposition.
As Marcos devolves into a brutal dictator and Aquino evolves into the voice of the disenfranchised, Imelda retreats into a world of celebrity, glamor, and fashion.
The First Lady hobnobs with the world’s most beautiful and powerful people and loves nothing more than hanging out in exclusive nightclubs, dancing all night to disco music.
The biographical fact that Imelda Marcos loved disco dance clubs provides David Byrne the perfect justification for turning her entire life into a disco number. In his eyes, she created a bubble that allowed her to deny the darker and harsher realities of her country.
And by incorporating so much of the audience into the dance club — yes, the audience does indeed dance (and maybe even sing along) with the energetic cast — the show demonstrates just how easy it is to get swept up by an emotional crowd, no matter the politics.
“Here Lies Love” bears a superficial resemblance to “Evita,”
another musical about a striking First Lady. The Andrew Lloyd Webber show packs a more dramatic punch, primarily because the musical palette is more varied. Musically, “Here Lies Love” is insistently pop-py, intentionally shallow. That insistence eventually pays off, when the disconnect between the music and the events being depicted becomes impossible to ignore. But for much of the show, the music simply stays catchy and slight.
What really sets “Here Lies Love” apart is its immersive quality. It allows/forces the audience, most of it anyway, to bop along with the performers. I normally dread interactive shows but my wife and I had a great time, stumbling through Filipino line-dances, clapping on cue and “raising the roof” high above our heads.
It may not have been pretty (or profound) but it was a lot of fun.