Here Lies Love

From Evita to Imelda, Here Lies Love Reignites Fascination With Powerful Women

Imagine a musical about the glamorous wife of a charismatic dictator, beloved by the masses and despised by those who watched the first lady and her husband enrich themselves at their country’s expense. Chances are, you’ve seen some version of Evita, the smash-hit musical biography of Eva and Juan Peron. More than 40 years later, Broadway audiences are cheering another spectacular show about an equally infamous political couple, Imelda and Ferdinand Marcos of the Philippines, in Here Lies Love. Composed by the dream team of David Byrne and Fatboy Slim and directed by Tony Award winner Alex Timbers, Here Lies Love has emerged as a must-see theatrical event and an irresistible portrait of the perils of unchecked power.

Arielle Jacobs in Here Lies Love. Photo by Billy Bustamante, Matthew Murphy, and Evan Zimmerman.
Arielle Jacobs in Here Lies Love. Photo by Billy Bustamante, Matthew Murphy, and Evan Zimmerman.

Both of these diva-centric musicals began as concept albums, a development tool Evita composer Andrew Lloyd Webber had used with great success on his previous pop opera Jesus Christ Superstar. Here Lies Love — the three words Imelda Marcos suggested should appear on her tombstone — was recorded in 2010 on a double album featuring Cyndi Lauper, Tori Amos, Natalie Merchant, Sia, and Florence Welch, among other singers, including Byrne himself. Byrne had been inspired by photos of Imelda dancing with celebrities at Studio 54, a parallel musical universe to that of his own rock band Talking Heads in the late 1970s. “She had a disco ball in her townhouse,” the composer marveled in a Washington Post interview. “I saw a video of her dancing with an arms dealer under her disco ball. [I thought] What if that’s the story that gets told?”

As in Evita, Byrne pictured a musical about a beautiful young woman who ascends from poverty to immense wealth accumulated through political corruption. In both shows, the protagonists are goaded by figures who represent the conscience of the people: Che Guevara in Evita, and Ninoy Aquino, the Marcoses’ political nemesis, in Here Lies Love. Eva Peron and Imelda Marcos remained oblivious — or, worse, uncaring — about the effect of their actions on the nations their husbands had pledged to serve. Theatrical? Most definitely, as the late Harold Prince demonstrated in his sumptuous premiere production of Evita.

The spirit of Here Lies Love, led by magnetic lead performances from Arielle Jacobs (Imelda), Jose Llana (Ferdinand), and Conrad Ricamora (Ninoy), feels more contemporary but equally epic. Byrne based most of the show’s lyrics on actual statements by the Marcoses and Aquino, who was assassinated in Manila in 1983 as he stepped off an airplane after three years of exile in America. At one point, in a scene echoing one of her dreams, Imelda declares herself to be “the people’s star and slave.” After witnessing Ninoy’s funeral, she pouts, “Why don’t you love me?” In recounting the People Power Revolution that drove the Marcoses out of the country in 1986, the Broadway production’s all-Filipino cast movingly conveys the ongoing damage the couple inflicted on the Philippines.

Conrad Ricamora, Arielle Jacobs, and the cast of Here Lies Love. Photo by Billy Bustamante, Matthew Murphy, and Evan Zimmerman.
Conrad Ricamora, Arielle Jacobs, and the cast of Here Lies Love. Photo by Billy Bustamante, Matthew Murphy, and Evan Zimmerman.

From the beginning of its theatrical journey, Here Lies Love’s disco-flavored score was entrusted to Alex Timbers, one of the most exciting directors of the 21st century. (Who better to shepherd this many-pronged story than the man who guided Moulin Rouge!, Beetlejuice, and Peter and the Starcatcher to Broadway?) The show debuted at the Public Theater in 2013 in an intimate staging. The miracle of the current production is that Timbers and set designer David Korins (Hamilton, Beetlejuice) have maintained the connection between performers and audience in a much larger house. Cast members climb into the mezzanine at various moments to sing and dance amid projections of the actors mixed with video footage of the Marcoses and other historical figures. “The goal is that wherever you’re sitting in the theatre, it’s going to feel like the staging and the direction are sort of wrapped around you,” Timbers told Broadway Direct just before previews began in June.

As Byrne explained, “The audience is very important to the show — their participation. They’re the ones excited about the glamour [of Imelda’s life]. The audience is completely seduced; there’s the music, and everyone’s dancing. Then, as happened in the Philippines, they feel at some point they’ve been betrayed. It’s the audience who has a change of mind. Not the characters.” The composer observed that Here Lies Love has become even more relevant in the decade since its Off-Broadway run. At that time, Nino Aquino’s son Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III was serving as president of the Philippines; in 2022, Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. was elected president, fueled by disinformation about the crimes of his father, who died in 1989. Now 94 years old, Imelda is once again living in the Philippines. “You see this kind of authoritarian rule being established, or places sliding into it, all over the world,” said Byrne.

Which brings us back to the allure of musicals centering on ambitious real-life women — and men. “As an artist, I get very excited with stories that are shining a light on history in a way that educates and inspires people to think about how it might relate to their lives,” Here Lies Love leading lady Arielle Jacobs tells Broadway Direct. “I think that art can get people to ask questions about how what they saw might reinform the choices that they’ve made in the past and the choices they’ll make moving forward.” Her hit show stands in the tradition of Evita, 1776, Assassins, and Hamilton in bringing complex characters to riveting life on the musical stage.

Learn More About Here Lies Love