David Byrne tells how Here Lies Love and the story of Filipina First Lady Imelda Marcos’ journey from her modest beginnings to rise to power, and finally, her fall into disgrace was brought to the stage, according to GuernicaMag.com.
Byrne discusses how this project transformed from what he originally imagined – a minimal dialogue performance similar to Grace Jones’ “track act” shows – to a rock opera that went beyond the early visualizations thanks to various collaborators.
Meeting with directors, Byrne liked Alex Timbers’ work in Hell House and A Very Merry Scientology Christmas Pageant where he used “found” material, very similar to Byrne’s process for using interviews, quotes, and speeches for the lyrics. Byrne writes:
“Alex understood immediately that the piece couldn’t be a conventional musical, with dialogue interspersed between songs. He knew it had to tell the story through other means—the songs, of course, but also the staging, the video elements, and the costumes—plus, it needed to have the energy typical of a club.”
In order to tell the story best, a number of talents were assembled: Annie-B Parsons as choreographer; David Korins as set designer; Clint Ramos as costume designer; Broadway Lighting Master Classes speaker, Justin Townsend as lighting designer; M.L. Dogg and Cody Spencer as sound designers; and Broadway Projection Master Classes speaker, Peter Nigrini as projection designer.
Throughout workshops, the performance went through various changes, including eliminating songs such as “Grew Up Too Soon,” “Every Drop of Rain,” and “You’ll Be Taken Care Of,” which Byrne liked, but realized they had to go for the development of the narrative. Byrne also combined “Don’t You Agree?” and “Pretty Face,” referenced “Dancing Together” in “The Fabulous One” for better transition, and wrote “Star and Slave” to complete that contiguous lyrical narrative.
Besides the songs, workshops allowed the team to determine how to tell the story through visuals, specifically innovative staging techniques, such as Nigrini’s suggestion to introduce young senator Marcos through simulated live TV coverage of his campaign.
Byrne also added “God Draws Straight,” which tells the story of the anonymous participants of the People Power Revolution that formed after the voice of the people, Benigno Aquiano’s assassination, and peacefully ousted the Marcos’s from office in just four days. For this final song, Timbers’ suggested an acoustic interlude, while Townsend emphasized the conversion from club scene to real world by cutting all theatrical lighting.
Timbers and Korin recommended that the platform/stages move. This allowed for a fluidity between actors and audience. The actors could parade down the aisle, while at other times the area was cleared so audience could dance. Moving the stages became just as choreographed as the dances, and the stagehands timed it perfectly to the performance.
Byrne commented on Parson’s incredible flexibility with having to re-choreograph and re-stage countless songs and scenes over and over. Ramos brought many breakaway outfits and butterfly sleeves that help emulate the style and culture of the Philippines in that era.
“I knew the show backwards and forwards, but would still dance, laugh and, yes, cry almost every time I sat in as a member of the audience. It’s a testament to my collaborators and the actors, but, just as much, I think my emotional reaction is because these events really happened.”
Read the full story on GuernicaMag.com, and check out the promo video here.