Cristina Osmeña: Here lies ‘Here Lies Love’

The Broadway production about the ascent and descent of Imelda Marcos, conceived (including music and lyrics) by David Byrne of the Talking Heads and Fatboy Slim with additional music for this version from Tom Ganney and Jose Luis Pardo, closed abruptly last month.

Originally released as a concept album by David Byrne and Fatboy Slim, it debuted on the stage at New York’s iconic Public Theater in 2013 and ran again at the Public in 2014 to 2015.

This year, 2023, the show debuted on Broadway. Then last month, it’s calendar which had previously extended to 2024 was suddenly amended to reflect a last matinee show on November 26. Rumors circulated that the show was losing money.

I had Here Lies Love on my “should see” list particularly because one American friend was enthralled with the score and the story. I rushed to buy tickets after the announced closure.

The experience of spending over two hours having to empathize with Imelda was not how I would ever hope to use my time. It appears Byrne attempted to cast her in a disco-Evita story that ended with overthrow rather than the mosaic of death, morning, and idolatry that follows Evita to this day.

Taking an imaginary journey with an extreme narcissist took some of the pleasure out of potentially tolerable music and trip down Philippine memory lane. It might have been better if the main character had been Marcos, played by the handsome Jose Llana (who bears an uncanny resemblance to Rob Bonta).

But I am more surprised that the narrative wasn’t woven more intricately around Ninoy Aquino. People Power would have been a few words on a screen if it weren’t for one of the most touching songs at the end of the show using descriptions from real eyewitnesses at People Power accompanied by an acoustic guitar.

Unmemorable disco music aside, the story was conceived and written by a non-Filipino and this was the essence of the problem. The profundity of our history, the things that make us well up with tears, the common lore passed so easily by word of mouth through the Filipino community was all lost to Byrne.

There really is a story to tell about the rise and fall of Marcos the Elder (I have to make the distinction now) and all other circumstances surrounding these events. I gave the show a chance and came to the same conclusion I would have if I had if I hadn’t seen it at all: how can a non-Filipino “get” the Philippines?

Not lost on me was the surprising interest out of the broader public. Most of the audience in the show I attended were non-Filipinos. And I kept marveling at how a story about our motherland was being depicted on Broadway.
I was shocked when they depicted a call between Ninoy and Steve Psinakis who factored prominent in the escape story in my family. Are there really that many outsiders interested in us?
I only hope that Broadway’s appetite for stories about the Philippines hasn’t been exhausted by the rise and fall of Here Lies Love. Maybe the next one will be written by a Filipino.