Saturday, April 20, 2024

Review: David Byrne’s “Here Lies Love” Triumphant Broadway Opening 9 Years After Its Landmark Run at the Public Theater


In 2014, I went to the Public Theater in New York to see David Byrne’s “Here Lies Love” and nothing was ever the same.

At the time, everyone was asking if it could move to Broadway. But the configurations of the theater were so unique that no one was ready for it uptown. Where could you put it?

Now, nine years later, the Broadway Theater has been scooped out to look like Studio 54. There’s a huge disco ball twirling from the ceiling. Below, the audience — a lot of of them — move with the portable stages being pushed by stage hands with light sabers directing them like planes landing at La Guardia. (Plus, if you’re lucky, you may see David Byrne himself in a white suit mixed in among the audience.)

Along the sides of the walls, there are seats and now also in the mezzanine. It’s as if the Public production was put on steroids.

And there on all the stages, for 90 minutes, we get an extraordinary cast with the most amazing voices singing the songs of David Byrne and Fat Boy Slim about the rise and fall of Imelda and Fernando Marcos, dictators of the Philippines. (Their son has that job now, and Imelda — once ostracized — is living there again.)

Alex Timbers made his mark in 2014 directing the original, and he’s back along with some of the cast including Conrad Ricamore as Aquino, Jose Llana as Marcos, and several new exciting additions including Arielle Jacobs as Imelda, Melody Butiu, and Moses Villarama.

They are all standouts, but now the show turned one number — sung by Marcos’s mother — into a showcase for a Star. That would be Lea Salonga, who arrives with the fan fare of Dolly Levi and Gloria Swanson on a stage moving across the floor — they literally clear a path for her — singing “Just Ask the Flowers” and the audience goes appropriately wild. There would be a standing ovation except everyone is already standing.

The whole concept of “Here Lies Love” is so unique, it had to come from the Public. “Hamilton” followed. But this show should be as big, as sold out, and as award winning. In 2014 it was a breath of fresh air, and that’s only more true now. For one thing, the Filipino cast is very exciting on its own terms. The voices of these actors are exceptionally gorgeous, and they do credit to Byrne’s inventive melodies.

Songs? Besides “Flowers,” my favorites remain “Why Don’t You Love Me? ” sung by Imelda, which should be released to the radio and covered by every pop singer. Also, Ricamora carries off a very Talking Heads like number called “The Fabulous One,” that ties together both sides of Byrne’s career. Also in addition to the cast fans of Byrne’s “American Utopia” will recognize many of that show’s drummers. They turn up, like singers and dancers, all over the theater.

Imelda Marcos became infamous around the world for her excesses including rooms and rooms of expensive shoes. She was the Evita of the Philippines. “Here Lies Love” doesn’t get into what happened after the Marcoses were expelled from the country. There’s too much to tell in a short period of history including how they eliminated their political rival, Ninoy Aquino. But just this snapshot of history is jarring because the Marcoses — were encouraged by Ronald Reagan — are easily the template for the former US president and his third wife. This is a cautionary tale above everything else.

I’m ready to see this unique production again. It’s worth seeing a couple of times, from different angles.

The producers know what a hit they have. They hosted an old fashioned grand party at David Geffen (formerly Avery FIsher) Hall, using all the levels except the concert hall itself. Guests included producers HER Music and La Chanze, as well as actor Daniel Dae Kim and his family, three Tony winners from “Book of Mormon” — Josh Gad, Andrew Rannels, and Nikki James — plus “Succession” star Arian Moayed, Drew Barrymore, and a slew of guests dressed like it was high Halloween in Greenwich Village. Quite the night!

Tony Awards, here we come!

PS Funniest sighting of the night was Anna Wintour, sitting in the front row of a balcony perch, wearing her trademark sunglasses. A spotlight swept over her at one point, highlighting her own ridiculous imperiousness. She could easily be the subject of the show, singing “Why Don’t You Love Me?”

Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman began his Showbiz411 column in April 2009 after 10 years with Fox News, where he created the Fox411 column. His movie reviews are carried by Rotten Tomatoes, and he is a member of both the movie and TV branches of the Critics Choice Awards. His articles have appeared in dozens of publications over the years including New York Magazine, where he wrote the Intelligencer column in the mid 90s and covered the OJ Simpson trial, and Fox News (when it wasn't so crazy) where he covered Michael Jackson. He is also the writer and co-producer of "Only the Strong Survive," a selection of the Cannes, Sundance, and Telluride Film festivals, directed by DA Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus.

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