The disco beat of David Byrne goes on and on at New York’s Public Theater, where Here Lies Love — the musical based on Byrne’s and Fatboy Slim’s 2010 concept album of the same name about the life of Filipino leader Imelda Marcos — kicked off its commercial run on Thursday night. The show first opened in April 2013 at the theater, as part of its regular season, and demanded multiple extensions before finally making way for another production.
“We wanted it to continue, but because of the nature of the show — it’s a simulated danceclub disco and the performance goes on all around you — we can’t do it in a regular theater,” Byrne told The Hollywood Reporter. “So we looked and looked, and in the time since the last run, we didn’t find anything — almost but not quite. The Public generously said, ‘Come back into the place where you were. You can do a commercial run here, and we’ll make some kind of deal. We don’t want it to disappear for too long.'”
Byrne explained that the album was always meant to evolve into a concert or theatrical event, possibly staged in a real club. However, he had trouble getting it done when it was first released, so he used it as what he calls a “calling card.” Now that it’s happened, he’s been bitten by the theater bug. “I’m going to try again. It takes a while,” Byrne says of his next theatrical endeavor. “I’m working on it, but I’m in the beginning stages.”
Producer Joey Parnes, who has worked with the Public on all their commercial endeavors including the Broadway transfers of Hair and Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson, joined the commercial producing team for this return run, and while there were rumors of trying to move the show to Broadway, the theater’s artistic director Oskar Eustis knew that wasn’t possible.
“We never believed it would work on Broadway because we knew we had to have a site-specific space,” said Eustis, joking that he felt a little like Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz because they looked at spaces all over the city and found that there’s no place like home. “The Public Theater has never had an open-ended run and we’ve never had a collaboration with commercial producers on our own turf, so it’s an experiment.”
However, while the search for a space in New York proved difficult, director Alex Timbers confirms that the show has already found a home across the Pond and will have its London premiere at the National Theatre in October. “The New York production will stay here, and we’ll do it in a separate production in the fall,” said Timbers. “We’ll reopen one of the National’s spaces. It used to be called the Cottesloe, and it’s going to be called the Dorfman now.”
Timbers, who worked with set designer David Korins to simulate a nightclub environment with moving stage platforms, admitted he wasn’t always certain the idea would work. “We were really surprised,” he recalled of the reaction to the initial production. “I remember at the dress rehearsal, we were talking to the producers and they were like, ‘We don’t know if it works.’ And we had a day off before our first preview, and I was really going to a negative place.”
Emursive — the theatrical producing company of Jonathan Hochwald, Randy Weiner and Arthur Karpati, also came on board for this incarnation, as they specialize in site-specific work like the Hitchcock-meets-Macbeth experience Sleep No More.
Here Lies Love’s opening night festivities took place atop the McKittrick Hotel, where Sleep No More runs, at the rooftop bar Gallow Green. The evening’s drizzles didn’t keep the cast members, like Ruthie Ann Miles, Jose Llana and Conrad Ricamora, and special guests like director Baz Luhrmann and actor Andrew Rannells, from joining in on the fun. Party guests enjoyed cocktails and appetizers among the shrubbery-filled patio space, and some cast members, along with Byrne and Eustis, sported barongs, which are typical Filipino shirts, to celebrate the show’s story.
“It’s a lot of work, but it’s the most fun work you could ever ask for,” Miles says of playing Imelda Marcos. “It almost feels like we’ve never left.”