David Byrne and Fatboy Slim give a refreshingly sober view of Imelda Marcos in ‘Here Lies Love’
NY Daily News
By Jim Farber
7 April 2010
We've already seen one hit musical about the life of a big time female fascist in "Evita." Why not another?
David Byrne may, or may not, have had that in mind when he hit on the notion to write a theatrical ode to Imelda Marcos, the woman who, along with husband Ferdinand, ruled the Philippines from 1965 to 1986.
Just don't go expecting any shoe jokes out of him. Byrne means to take Imelda seriously in "Love Lies Here," his new, double CD/22 songcycle about the relationship between the deposed politician and her far less privileged childhood friend and caretaker Estrella Cumpas.
Fascinated by Imelda's love of discos in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, Byrne used dance music as his muse. Which led him to collaborate on the music with brand name club maven Fat Boy Slim.
In the tradition of Andrew Lloyd Weber's "Jesus Christ Superstar" and Duncan Sheik's "Whisper House," Byrne didn't wait around for a theater company to bankroll his wild notion. Instead he cut this album of it first, casting a mass of cult singers, from Tori Amos to Cyndi Lauper to Nellie McKay, to voice the main characters' frustrations and dreams.
In his liner notes, Byrne writes that he'd love to stage the show in a thumping club, though most of these songs are unlikely to ignite a disco inferno. Despite their eager use of dance rhythms, many seem more like ballads with a backbeat. Many of the songs show the influence of Byrne's longtime love of Latin music, but it's their sweet melodies that really entice.
The cast often makes the most of them, even though their sheer numbers can prove confusing.
Nearly twenty singers voice the same two characters. Byrne rationalizes that by saying he intended the timbre of each singer to embody different aspects of Imelda or Estrella. We're meant to feel Imelda's anger over Ferdinand's infidelities through Alice Russell's passionate delivery of "Men Will Do Anything." We're supposed to get the character's hauteur through Charmaine Clamor's poised take on "Walk Like A Woman."
But the ever-shifting cast prevents us from getting too deep into the women. Instead of feeling like they're being embodied, it feels more like they're being explained.
Several male singers turn up to flesh things out, including Byrne himself. For a nice in-joke, the famously left-leaning singer Steve Earle gets to voice Ferdinand Marcos for a song.
Among the hired hands, Allison Moorer stands out in "When She Passed By," capturing both the pain of Estrella's rejection by Imeda as well as the pride-by-association she feels regardless. Lauper nails the zeal and intoxication of "Eleven Days," which describes the Marcos' whirlwind romance.
How all this would transfer to a stage is anyone's guess.
Given Byrne's aversion to theatrical "books," the live rendition might not give us much more detail about the characters than what we get on CD. Regardless, that leaves things of clear worth, including a host of elegant tunes, as well as a refreshingly sober view of a character who, otherwise, has drawn only snickers.