David Byrne’s “American Utopia” may have left Broadway but the Talking Heads leader is plotting a return — with disco.
Byrne and Fatboy Slim plan to put their musical “Here Lies Love,” a show that charts the rise and fall of Philippine ex-first lady Imelda Marcos, on a Broadway stage this summer.
It turned out the former beauty queen-turned-dictator’s wife apparently loved to dance, converted the roof of one of her Manila palaces into a nightclub and hit discos regularly in the 1970s.
“I thought, ‘There’s the soundtrack,’” Byrne told The Associated Press in 2014.
Byrne’s 90-minute show about Marcos’ rags-to-riches-to-exile journey played off-Broadway in 2013 and in a clutch of cities, including London in 2014 and Seattle Repertory Theatre in 2017.
The project began as a concept album, performed in a handful of live concerts including a 2007 engagement at Carnegie Hall, before it was developed into a full-blown theater piece directed by Alex Timbers with 360-degree staging.
Timbers this time will be charged with turning the 1,763-seat Broadway Theatre into an immersive experience. According to a press release, he and choreographer Annie-B Parson “will transform the venue’s traditional proscenium floor space into a dance club environment, where audiences will stand and move with the actors.”
The energetic, catchy musical begins with Imelda as a poor girl who gains fame as a beauty pageant winner. Following a whirlwind courtship, she marries up-and-coming politician and soon-to-be president, Ferdinand Marcos.
The lyrics are mostly taken from speeches or interviews from all sides during Marcos’ era and the standing-only audience moves around the space with the 15 actors.
The Marcoses ruled the Philippines from 1965 to 1986 — the last 14 years of that under martial law — before being driven into exile in Hawaii during a 1986 popular revolt, leaving the country’s economy faltering under huge debts. Ferdinand Marcos died in 1989 and Imelda, now 93, has returned to her homeland and entered politics. Their son Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. is now president of the Philippines.
“I wanted you to understand a little bit what’s motivating Imelda, what’s driving her, what her delusions are, but also what her pain is, what she loves, so you understand what makes her do the things that she does,” Byrne said in 2014.
Byrne — an art-rock progressive who famously sang “This ain’t no party/This ain’t no disco” — said he’d never had anything against club music. In fact, his record collection includes Donna Summer, The O’Jays and The Spinners.
Using disco in “Here Lies Love,” he said, allowed him to pay his respects to that sound but also freed him to write songs for other people that he wouldn’t write for himself.