Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Why “Here Lies Love” is Worth the Risk

I spent Thanksgiving in New York City, as I have for the last 25 years. While it is nice to see my in-laws (my wife is a native of Long Island, or is it “Lawn Geiland?”), for my kids to get a chance to spend some time with Grami and other family members, to get a peek at the Macy’s parade, and to see the tree at Rockefeller Center (not to mention taking in the best donuts at Doughnut Plant), it is also a chance to feed my musical theatre addiction.
This year, among the eight shows we saw in four days, I decided to take my daughters (ages 8 and 11) to see "Here Lies Love" at the Public Theater. This is a show I saw about 18 months ago and I liked it so much and it was so different that I just couldn’t resist the temptation to take them. Of course, it helps that they aren’t your average kids when it comes to musicals—the younger one has seen over 70 musicals and the older one more than 80!

Watching “Here Lies Love” and thinking about just how unique it is got me thinking about David Byrne, a member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and one of the musical’s co-authors (the other being English DJ Fatboy Slim). “Here Lies Love” is so groundbreaking and risk-taking (more on that in a moment) that it felt like something created by a serial entrepreneur. 

Not surprisingly, I learned in my quick research that Byrne is something of a serial entrepreneur. Not only was he a founder of the Talking Heads, but, in addition to founding his own independent record label (Todo Mundo), he also founded the world music record label Luaka Bop and started his own internet radio station, Radio David Byrne. I guess having had the opportunity to work with so many serial entrepreneurs in my career served me well in being able to spot one in Byrne.  

What’s risky about “Here Lies Love” is that it doesn’t follow most musical theatre conventions. A few specifics:

  • It’s mostly club music (there’s no orchestra, just a DJ) and virtually through-sung.
  • It is rooted in the history of Imelda Marcos (no, there aren’t a lot of shoes) and Filipino politics during the rise (and fall) of the Marcos regime.
  • The entire show is staged in a Filipino night club, with the audience all being participants on the dance floor of the club.  That’s right, there are no chairs!
  • There is no fixed stage at all, just a series of platforms that move (with the audience and the performers) throughout the performance.
Of course, what really makes it such a terrific show (one that I had to see a second time before it closes in January) is a score, written by an entrepreneur, that makes you want to dance. If I’ve piqued your curiosity, take a look/listen here

Taking these risks appears to be paying off. The show extended its original run in 2013 for several months (until the theatre wasn’t available anymore because of prior commitments). It’s been playing at the Public since April, and its entire current run at the Royal National Theatre in London is sold out. Most importantly, my girls rated it as their favorite of the eight shows we saw!

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