David Byrne’s Here Lies Love sets the bar high for immersive musical theatre

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By Zita Lam

In case you haven’t heard, Here Lies Love is now playing in Seattle Repertory Theatre and due to overwhelming popularity, has extended it’s run till June 18. Initially premiered off-Broadway at New York The Public Theatre in 2013, this rock musical has brought jubilation and furor everywhere it has taken place in. Production’s well-arranged design in different theatrical levels creates a strong connection between the talented cast and the applausive audience, and the success of  Here Lies Love is the reason why it has become the new standard for immersive musical theatre.

Concept and lyrics by David Byrne, music collaborated with British DJ Fat Boy Slim, Here Lies Love tells the story of Imelda Marcos, the former First Lady of the Philippines. In terms of presenting thorough characteristics of Lady Marcos, Byrne is aimed to breakdown audience’s preconceived ideas. The story starts with her destitute childhood and ends with her political stand under Ferdinand Marcos’ domination, it captures Imelda’s greatest rise and her turbulent fall. Matters of her fame, wealth, friendship, love and the political crisis that she had been publicly criticized for, are told in this biography-drawn yet entertaining portrait musical through more than twenty original songs.

Inspired by the fact that Imelda loved going to discos, the lower sitting level in Seattle Rep’s Wright Theatre is cleared out and transformed into a 80’s night club named “The Millennium”. The performance, as Byrne described in an interview, “It’s a little unconventional, there’s almost no dialogue.” While the visual effects are glimmering inside the theatre with a series of upbeat songs in the background, the audience is surrounded by the dancing and singing of the performers. The movable stage in the middle of the “dance floor” allows the casts to utilize the space to showcase their vivid dance moves and spectacular vocal skills. Under the provided guidelines, audiences in the standing area are stirred up with different sensations following the transformation of the stages. You think you can just stand still and watch the show? Imelda (Jayee Macapugay) starts singing among the crowd in her beautiful dress. On the other side, Aquino (Conrad Ricamora) is giving his speech against the President of Philippines, with a camcorder live streaming on the walls. Ensembles are leading the crowd to do the electric slide: clap to the left, clap to the right, and clap it all around. At the end of the day, teaching you how to live with true Filipino spirit is one of their goals.

Featuring mainly Filipinos, the casts’ incredible performance is also a factor that leads to the success of the show. Original off-Broadway actors Conrad Ricamora, Melody Butiu and Jaygee Macapugay return to reprise their roles respectively as Ninoy Aquino, Estrella Cumpas and Imelda Marcos. In 2013, Ricamora won Theatre World Award for his role in Here Lies Love and was nominated for Lucille Lortel Award for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Musical. Another notable actor, Mark Bautista, is an accomplished singer and actor in the Philippines. He plays Marcos in Royal National Theatre, London since 2014 and now reprising in the Seattle production.

Although Byrne chooses a rather gentle method to address this heavy topic, it is a powerful show. After all the dazzling acts, it ends with a soulful guitar solo performance which touches base with serious emotions toward the People Power Revolution. Byrne successfully create an unique world where he is able to tell the stories of a corrupted government, a cruel romance, an old bound, a tragedy, and an era of striving democracy. Production’s creative stage setting, mature immersive techniques, and a group of talented cast members has earned the overwhelmingly support by the audience. Ultimately, it sets a high bar for the immersive musical theatre.

Here Lies Love ends June 18, running time is approximately 90 minute with no intermission. For more information, visit https://www.seattlerep.org