Monday, May 26, 2014


David Byrne? Fatboy Slim? Musical theatre? No way.

Yes, way.

Here Lies Love, the delicious musical with songs by David Byrne (of Talking Heads fame) and beats by Fatboy Slim, was released as a concept album years ago featuring big-name musicians. Just last year, it was picked up in an acclaimed production at The Public Theatre. Directed by Alex Timbers, the show was staged in a dance club of sorts, with the cast performing on moving elevated platforms while the audience gets to stand and dance for the entirety of the 90 minute show.

It's a good thing the audience gets to dance, because with what David Byrne and Fatboy Slim have created, I'd find it damn near impossible not to.

Here Lies Love tells the story of the infamous Filipino first lady Imelda Marcos, taking us on the journey of her rise to fame and her eventual downfall. It ends up being like Evita on steroids. The sung-through musical is chockfull of songs that are pure ear candy. To say they're infectious is a severe understatement... you'll be humming these tunes for weeks. Byrne's delectable melodies are made even better with Fatboy Slim's energetic beats, and every song would be in perfect place if it were played in a dance club somewhere.

Ruthie Ann Miles is excellent as Imelda Marcos. Her singing voice lacks power but is pleasant to the ear, and her work on the title song makes it perhaps the most memorable of the whole score. And later, when she sings the wrenching 'Why Don't You Love Me?' she roars through it and lets loose with a powerful and jarring desperation we haven't heard until that point. Jose Llana's lovely tenor is put to good use as love interest President Ferdinand Marcos, exuding palpable sexuality and doing strong work on the soft and catchy A Perfect Hand. An album highlight is when Miles and Llana sing the bouncy and energetic Sugartime Baby.

Conrad Ricamora is terrific as Senator Ninoy Aquino, his robust voice carrying the funky Child of the Philippines and the stoic Gate 37. And Natalie Cortez, with a fierce belt, sounds terrific on the brooding Order 1081 and the march-like Just Ask the Flowers. But there's not a bad song or vocal performance in the bunch. The cast is uniformly excellent and well up to the immense energy of David Byrne and Fatboy Slim's score.

And prepare yourself for the disarming poignancy of God Draws Straight, the show's finale. Crooned by Kelvin Moon Loh's smoky voice, it drops the pulsating dance rhythms and is presented as a moving acoustic ballad. What a perfect way to end the show and bring us back to reality after living in overwhelmingly joyous ecstasy for the previous hour and a half.

That, at the end of the day, is what Here Lies Love gives us: ecstatic and exciting club beats and irresistible melodies with a serious and deep emotional core. When that core is revealed to us bare-bones in the score's final moments, we come down off of our clouds and think back on a show that has a lot more to say than we might have initially thought. And that's when its true impact registers.

Here Lies Love is one of the best and most original scores to emerge in musical theatre for a long time. You'll find it impossible to resist.

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