Butterflies Over Broadway: The Opening Night of Here Lies Love |

Butterflies Over Broadway: The Opening Night of Here Lies Love 

Photograph by Emilio Madrid-Kuser

Photograph by Emilio Madrid-Kuser

On July 20, the front entrance of the Broadway Theatre was transformed into a red carpet runway that welcomed a diverse set of celebrities who came to support and celebrate the historic opening night of Here Lies Love, the first Broadway musical production with an all-Filipino cast and a majority of Filipino producers

A number of people arrived wearing a terno, from producers Clint Ramos, Giselle “G” Töngi and Lea Salonga, cast and ensemble members Melody Butiu, Reane Acasio, and Julie Abueva, to the Vogue Philippines team. This parade of butterfly sleeves on Broadway caused passersby to stop and stare. “What is the significance of that sleeve?” someone asked. The terno has evolved over a century, influenced by global trends yet adapted for local use and made into our own, but the short answer is that it’s the Filipino (unofficial) national dress

The terno makes an appearance midway in Here Lies Love, when Imelda Marcos rises to her own power and starts to influence policy by dancing with other notorious dictators. The musical is unexpected take on Philippine history, and it’s always been a curiosity why David Byrne of the Talking Heads would craft an entire disco concept album about her life story (with Fatboy Slim), but he has always noted the global resonance of its themes. “It’s very much about the Philippines but it also about the whole world,” Byrne said at the opening night

This 2023 production of Here Lies Love has been updated from its earlier iterations with more historical context laid out and more clarity. Martial Law statistics, archival footage, and actual transcripts are projected on the wrap-around video screens. Sandro Lorenzo, a Filipino researcher working for the show, explained that audiences who watched the original productions didn’t understand the significance of Martial Law, and so the team added more information to the show, the lobby displays, and to the website which outlines America’s imperialist involvement in the Philippines. 

The musical begins with the DJ/hype man played by Moses Villarama instructing the audience to follow the neon jumpsuit-clad traffic controllers as they guide you around the floor. The revolving stage or the “blender” forces the floor crowd to keep shuffling along, offering them different perspectives of the performance while also separating companions from each other. These immersive tactics compel the audience to feel what it was like to be part of the masses that fell under the sway of the Marcoses and those that mourned for the slain Ninoy Aquino. 

Did it feel weird to be dancing to a song whose title refers to Imelda’s proposed epitaph for herself? Did it feel wrong to be bopping along to a catchy beat while pictures of suffering Filipinos flashed on screen? Yes and yes. But I suppose that’s the state of cognitive dissonance that the musical deliberately triggers. As producer and costume designer Clint Ramos has often said of the show, it’s like a bonbon with spikes. 

The musical crescendos with Lea Salonga’s powerful performance as Aurora Aquino, Ninoy’s mother. Loosely based on Aurora’s funeral speech for her son, “Just Ask the Flowers” is a song that funnels all the emotion missing from the dancier tunes. With just one song, Lea shows everyone why she’s Lea. Arielle Jacobs, the actress who plays Imelda, shared how she has looked up to Lea her entire life. “I’ve seen her break so many boundaries for Filipinos and Asian artists around the world. For she and I to have this moment together is completely mind-blowing to me,” she told Vogue Philippines at the opening. 

Filipinos have taken ownership of Here Lies Love, and it was marvelous to see the community come together for a glittering dance party that is also a tribute to democracy. Love lives here on Broadway, that night and for the rest of the nights until January 2024. 

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