This Week in New York Insider's Guide to Arts & Culture in New York City Since 2001



(photo by Joan Marcus)

David Byrne turns story of Imelda Marcos and the Philippines into spectacular new musical HERE LIES LOVE (photo by Joan Marcus)

The Public Theater, LuEsther Hall
425 Lafayette St. by Astor Pl.
Extended through June 30, $80.50 - $95.50

“I thought to myself, wouldn’t it be great if — as this piece would be principally composed of clubby dance music — one could experience it in a club setting?” David Byrne asked upon the release of his 2010 two-disc concept album about Imelda Marcos, Here Lies Love, a collaboration with Fatboy Slim featuring vocal contributions from Tori Amos, Steve Earle, Martha Wainwright, Natalie Merchant, Florence Welch, Cyndi Lauper, Nellie McKay, and others. “Could one bring a ‘story’ and a kind of theater to the disco? Was that possible? If so, wouldn’t that be amazing!” And amazing it is, to put it lightly. Byrne has turned Here Lies Love into a spectacular, must-see event, an immersive, endlessly creative theatrical experience that has been extended at the Public through June 30. Scenic designer David Korins has transformed LuEsther Hall into a rockin’ dance club where the audience is encouraged to shake it to hard-thumping tunes spun by a DJ (Kelvin Moon Loh) as they enter the space, which has stages at either end and a cross-shaped platform at the center. (The majority of the crowd moves about on the floor, with a smaller contingent sitting in chairs in the balcony, watching from above.) For the next ninety minutes, Byrne (concept, lyrics, music), Fatboy Slim (music), choreographer Annie-B Parson, and go-to director Alex Timbers (Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson, Peter and the Starcatcher, the upcoming Shakespeare in the Park production of Love’s Labour’s Lost) tell the story of Imelda Marcos (Ruthie Ann Miles), from her younger days as a poor villager in Tacloban with her best friend, Estrella (Melody Butiu), to her romance with politician Ninoy Aquino (Conrad Ricamora), marriage to eventual Filipino dictator Ferdinand Marcos (Jose Llana), and ever-expanding wealth and power.

(photo by Joan Marcus)

Imelda Marcos (Ruthie Ann Miles) wonders where it all went wrong in David Byrne’s theatrical extravaganza at the Public (photo by Joan Marcus)

The nonstop action takes place on a constantly changing set rearranged by a crack crew as the lead actors, as well as a talented ensemble cast (each of whom is worthy of mention: Renée Albulario, Natalie Cortez, Debralee Daco, Joshua Dela Cruz, Jeigh Madjus, Maria-Christina Oliveras, Trevor Salter, and Janelle Velasquez) that goes through numerous costumes (designed by Clint Ramos), pop up all over the theater, march up and down the sides, and walk through the crowd. Peter Nigrini’s projections range from archival news footage to live shots of reporters interviewing the main characters, with the audience right in the middle of it all as if they are one with the Filipino populace as the People Power Revolution approaches. Byrne’s lyrics are sharp and insightful, never proselytizing or judgmental, highlighted by such numbers as “The Rose of Tacloban,” “Eleven Days,” “Order 1081,” and the title song, tracing the political history of the Philippines in the twentieth century as seen through the eyes of a fascinating woman who didn’t just collect expensive shoes. Here Lies Love is a staggering achievement, an engrossing and involving extravaganza of cutting-edge theater at its finest.