When Here Lies Love, David Byrne and Fatboy Slim’s “disco pop” musical about former Philippine first lady Imelda Marcos, opens on Broadway on July 20, it will make history as the first Broadway musical to tell a Filipino story with an all-Filipino cast and crew and majority Filipino creative and producing teams including Lea Salonga, hip hop star H.E.R., and comedian Jo Koy — all of Filipino heritage — as first-time co-producers
“We are all so proud,” says Here Lies Love Co-Producer Don Michael H. Mendoza.
For Mendoza, the Pittsburgh- and DC-based Co-Founder of LA TI DO Productions, signing on as a co-producer on Here Lies Love is the fulfillment of a lifelong dream. “Producing a Broadway show was always a dream for me, but the fact that I get that dream come true and it’s the first Broadway show telling a Filipino story by an all-Filipino cast makes this experience so special.”
The 34-year-old Mendoza was born in Washington, DC, to parents who immigrated from the Philippines. As a child, Mendoza spent time both in the U.S. and the Philippines where his mother’s family, the Hodreal family — hence the H as his middle initial — founded many TV and radio stations with support from several Philippine administrations including President Ferdinand Marcos Sr. during his 21-year presidency-turned-dictatorship of the Philippines.
As a young child, Mendoza did not know much of his family history. “I assumed my parents came to America for the usual economic reasons immigrants do,” Mendoza mused when we met for coffee in the Pittsburgh neighborhood he grew up in. “I didn’t realize they were doing that and were rebels who wanted an adventure away from home.”
Mendoza’s familial connection to the controversial Philippine leader is a sensitive topic both in the Philippines and in Filipino circles in the U.S. where opinions on the Marcos family range from staunchly pro to vehemently anti-Marcos. The reign of Marcos Sr. and his wife Imelda began well-intentioned but then grew to include human rights abuses, financial corruption, and Imelda’s infamous enormous collection of shoes. After the People’s Power Revolution forced Marcos out of power in 1986, he died in exile in Hawaii while Imelda was permitted to return to the Philippines many years later. Currently, their son Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. is the president.
“As it’s sung in the show, ‘God draws straight, but with crooked lines,’ ” said Mendoza. “History is echoing loudly in my parents’ homeland, but can we learn and prevent a repeat of what this show presents not just in The Philippines, but around the world?”
Here Lies Love was a smashing success when it premiered at the off-Broadway Public Theatre in 2013. Alex Timbers (recent Tony Award winner for his direction of Moulin Rouge) directed that production and returns now for the Broadway incarnation. The show welcomes audiences into a “dance club” in full-on party mode. Audience members become clubbers as they watch the retelling of the life of Imelda Marcos, who began life impoverished and rose through a combination of marriage and quick wits to become one of the most powerful and memorable figures in Philippine and global history. Plans for a Broadway run came about shortly after successful runs off-Broadway and in London, but due to COVID, it took the show almost a decade to get there.
The current creative team is determined to recreate the club-like atmosphere that made previous versions of the show a success.
“Here Lies Love did not change to fit the theater. We changed the theater to fit the show,” said Mendoza. The entire orchestra section has been ripped out and replaced with a steel runway that will serve as a dance floor. Adventurous audience members can stand on the dance floor, while those preferring to sit and observe can choose balcony-style seats on either side of the runway. LED screens and a new 360-degree sound system have been placed around the theater ensuring a vivid experience for everyone in attendance.
However, the move to Broadway has not been without controversy. The Here Lies Love production team originally intended to use pre-recorded tracks instead of live musicians to emulate the karaoke, club vibe of the show. Performing without live musicians would have been unprecedented for Broadway, and a violation of the Broadway musicians union, which mandates that 19 live musicians be employed in The Broadway Theater for all musical productions. After receiving pushback and engaging in further negotiation, the Here Lies Love team adjusted their plan and will now have a total of 12 live musicians playing in the show.
“The lead producers were in negotiations with the 802 Musicians Union since February, and I believe a satisfactory compromise was reached by both sides,” said Mendoza. “And now we can move forward and continue celebrating this watershed moment for the culture and for Broadway.”
Becoming a co-producer on a Broadway show was a giant leap in size from the projects Mendoza produced in DC and nationwide. (LA TI DO productions and Mendoza’s subsequent production company DMH Mendoza Productions have regular cabaret shows and special events in DC and other cities around the country.) According to Mendoza, becoming a co-producer required raising more funds than he was ever used to seeing in his career, but he was determined. Mendoza also recruited a fellow Filipino producer Lora Nicolas Olaes, who he calls his work wife, and the pair worked as a team to achieve their fundraising goal.
It was the chance to be a part of Broadway history that made Mendoza take the plunge into the high-stakes world of Broadway producing. That and the chance to work with legendary Filipino theater artists including Lea Salonga, and producers Clint Ramos and Jose Antonio Vargas.
“Being a co-producer is usually transactional. You are there to raise money and that’s it. But with this project, the creative team is really tapping into the Filipino producer cohort as a resource. Alex Timbers [director], David Korins [set designer], David Byrne, and Fat Boy Slim [creators], who are all white, want the show to be authentic, and leaning on us to do so is an added benefit to this show’s continued success.”
The team is applying many authentic Filipino touches to the production, starting with ticket sales and outreach into the Filipino community, which also included purchasing a Jeepney. This World War II-era jeep is an iconic fixture in the Philippines and has become the show’s literal official PR vehicle. “Filipino culture is great in that when something happens in our community everyone pitches in. We have people from all sides of the political spectrum contributing and a large outreach team reaching out to the Filipino community in the U.S. and the Philippines to raise awareness of the show.”
Mendoza hopes the show will have a long legacy, with international, touring, and regional productions providing a revolving door for Filipino talent the way Hamilton did for people of color.
He was thrilled when the cast list for the Broadway production was released and he saw the names of several LA TI DO alums in the cast — Jose Llana (Ferdinand Marcos), Conrad Ricamora (Ninoy Aquino), Jeigh Madjus, Roy Flores, and Jaygee Macapugay — alongside Salonga and Arielle Jacobs (Imelda Marcos). Says Mendoza: “There’s a lot of good juju because this production continues to be a growing artistic family filled with new and seasoned connections. We’re ready to welcome everyone to the dance floor!”
Here Lies Love is in previews and opens officially on July 20, 2023, at The Broadway Theatre, 1681 Broadway, New York, NY. For more information and tickets, go online or call Telecharge at 800-447-7400.
COVID Safety: The owners and operators of Broadway theaters in New York City continue their mask-optional policy.