The Student Voice of Fordham Lincoln Center

The Observer

The Student Voice of Fordham Lincoln Center

The Observer

The Student Voice of Fordham Lincoln Center

The Observer


On the Anniversary of the People Power Revolution: A Retrospective on “Here Lies Love”

The disco-pop musical about the former First Lady of the Philippines closed after a brief run on Broadway.
The stage at the Broadway Theatre extended out and the orchestra seats were removed, making the audience feel as if they were at a nightclub.

This February, millions of people are celebrating the 38th anniversary of an extraordinary historical moment: when a brutal dictatorship in the Philippines was toppled by a pacifist revolution of the masses. “The People Power Revolution,” as it is known, has produced several stories of ordinary people peacefully protesting for the return of democracy and human rights. Yet these stories are now in danger of erasure as the son of the dictator, Ferdinand Marcos Sr., has risen to presidential power. 

A story that has emerged to international attention recently came in the form of “Here Lies Love,” a play that boasted one of the most unique concepts on the big stage: a high-octane disco club musical about Imelda Marcos, the infamous wife of Ferdinand Marcos Sr.

“Here Lies Love” is one of the few works of art on the Marcos dictatorship and the People Power Revolution that has reached a broad audience in the West. For many non-Filipinos in New York City, it may as well be the closest contact they ever had to this part of history. On the anniversary of People Power, I decided to write a retrospective on “Here Lies Love” and the weight of proper representation through stories. 

The disco atmosphere did not dilute the crimes committed by the Marcoses but instead effectively portrayed how out-of-touch Imelda was to the problems of her people.

As ridiculous as the concept of “Here Lies Love” may initially seem, it has the potential to be visionary. After all, Imelda was known for her decadence and love for partying. Staging the musical in a theater revamped into a disco club experience could have been an innovative way to get its audience immersed in the story, but it was not enough to sustain the exorbitant costs of production. The musical’s abrupt closing meant its total performance count pales in comparison to other history-inspired musicals such as “Evita,” “Hamilton” and “Six.”  

In theory, the musical presented a unique opportunity to raise awareness about Filipino culture and history, which are still critically underrepresented in the United States. Fordham University itself has some connection to the story “Here Lies Love” tells: Aside from having a growing community of Filipinos, Fordham awarded an honorary doctorate to President Corazon Aquino, the figurehead of the movement that toppled the regime of Imelda’s husband, Ferdinand Marcos Sr.

However, many critics and Filipinos were concerned about the story’s authenticity. “Here Lies Love” is the brainchild of David Byrne and Fatboy Slim, adapted from their 2010 concept album of the same name. The musical’s book was also authored by Byrne, while the Broadway and West End iterations were designed and directed by Alex Timbers. None of the original creators have roots in Filipino culture aside from an interest in Imelda’s story. 

As “Here Lies Love” made its way to Broadway, it seems as though the composers tried to remedy this by involving several producers of Filipino descent, as well as hiring an all-Filipino cast, the first ever for a Broadway production. Concerns over the portrayal of Imelda in the musical, however, with many thinking that the fun, glitzy nature would end up glorifying her. 

In 1972, President Marcos Sr. declared martial law in the Philippines, resulting in a U.S.-backed dictatorship. According to Amnesty International, tens of thousands of Filipinos were killed, tortured or incarcerated during this time. International courts found the Marcoses guilty of accumulating billions of dollars of ill-gotten wealth. The regime lasted 14 years until they were deposed in a peaceful revolution. As the first lady, Imelda was known for wielding significant influence.

Local and international journalists found ample evidence that the Marcoses returned to power through a campaign predicated on misinformation and the whitewashing of history. Many Filipinos feared that if “Here Lies Love” misrepresented history and elicited any sympathy for the Marcoses, it would enable the revision of history, but the disco atmosphere did not dilute the crimes committed by the Marcoses but instead effectively portrayed how out-of-touch Imelda was to the problems of her people.

From a performance standpoint, “Here Lies Love” on Broadway was fantastic. Arielle Jacobs as Imelda sold the story’s transition of ingénue to obsessive politician. Jose Llana played Ferdinand Marcos Sr. with suave cunning. Conrad Ricamora had a star turn as Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino, Imelda’s ex and a vocal critic of the Marcos regime.

The production itself was remarkably innovative for Broadway. With the front seats removed, the theater’s first level was transformed into a dance floor. The stage was extended by a moving platform that spun around the dance floor and rearranged the audience to accommodate various scenes. The theater was filled with neon lights and giant screens displaying montages and strategic close-ups of the performers, giving the impression that we were watching a concert. 

Was “Here Lies Love” a revolution for Broadway and representation, or was it a revision of history and the Filipino voice? Like most revolutions, it is complicated.

While it may seem to be a fun novelty at first, the participative format of the musical made its message more visceral. The show tricks the audience into partying with Imelda before unmasking the ugly truth underneath the glittery facade. At first, this may feel deceptive. Yet, the red flags in Imelda’s character were present from the beginning. The show enamors its viewers with spectacles and songs, showing how easy it is to get lost in the world of the Marcoses — and how easy it is to turn a blind eye to their faults. 

Nevertheless, the message of the musical is undermined by not sticking to the rule of “show, don’t tell.” While the audience was fed with facts and figures on corruption and human rights violations, the musical dedicated relatively few performed sequences of these happening. The lack of developed personalities representing “the People” affected by the Marcos regime left a void in the narrative. 

Another strange interpretation of events is that by the end of the musical, Imelda is confused as to why people do not love her. This gives the impression that she is relatively naive, yet real-life interviews show that she is quite pragmatic. Given her family’s return to power, underestimating Imelda’s political savvy may be the musical’s most glaring error. 

These faults seem to arise from a lack of perspective on the non-Filipino writers’ end. It is unfair to say that they did not, at times, capture key elements of the culture. References made to historical details were surprisingly well-researched. However, I think it was the production team who did the most justice to the culture and history through clever stage direction and inside jokes.

Was “Here Lies Love” a revolution for Broadway and representation, or was it a revision of history and the Filipino voice? Like most revolutions, it is complicated. Yet it is important to note that many Filipinos, including those who have lived and fought against the Marcos regime, appreciated the musical for what it was. Several of the non-Filipino attendees were spotted carefully reading the historical background of the plot through lobby screens and Playbills. This alone may be enough to justify the musical’s existence. 

At the heart of the “Here Lies Love” controversy is the importance of narratives and how they are presented. It was given a lofty responsibility to be as factual as possible because it chose to depict a history that continues to be neglected and revised. In the words of Imelda Marcos herself, “Perception is real, and the truth is not.”

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About the Contributor
Katrina Martinez Luna, Staff Writer

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