BWW CD Reviews: Nonesuch's HERE LIES LOVE (Original Cast Recording) is Bubbly, Pop-Laden Fun
Imelda Marcos is a ripe public figure for having a biographic musical written about her. Personally, I always expected a musical about her life would have that grand and epic cinematic sound of Andrew Lloyd Webber's EVITA (you know, the musical about the world's other pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps female political figure that took the world by storm). However, I couldn't be more pleased with David Byrne and Fatboy Slim's rich pop score for Here Lies Love. With their smooth beats and rhythmic backdrops, their score is reminiscent of contemporary Philippine Pop music while giving listeners everything they would expect from David Byrne and Fatboy Slim.
David Byrne and Fatboy Slim's score for Here Lies Love is deliciously poppy and filled with beats that make you want to dance along with the music. The tracks on the album range in style from Electronic Dance Music ("Riots and Bombs") to variations on tropical calypsos ("Sugartime Baby") and to pop-funk inspired tracks ("Dancing Together"). Additionally, they have composed some truly beautiful ballads for the show as well, namely "The Rose of Tacloban," "Walk Like a Woman," "Solano Avenue," and "Gate 37." With the range of musical styles encapsulated on the recording, every track sounds fresh and original. Progressing through the dual-disc album, the listener is kept guessing as to what will come next and is constantly and pleasantly surprised.
Lyrics by David Byrne are believable and realistic. He ignores the elevated language of the musical medium, giving audiences cleverly constructed metaphors and sentimental overtures that sound grounded in reality and emotional authenticity. Every line sounds utterly human, creating art from the language of the average person. Where some lyrics may seem hyperbolic, one just needs to look through the stunning book of liner notes to realize that Imelda Marcos actually banged her head against the wall during a nervous breakdown.
The stars of the album are Ruthie Ann Miles as Imelda Marcos and Melody Butiu as Estrella. With a soft, soprano instrument, Ruthie Ann Miles creates a versatile character, exploring both the vulnerability and strength of Imelda Marcos through her evocative and gorgeous vocalizations. Melody Butiu's lush alto instrument makes the wisdom of Estrella, the woman who raised Imelda Marcos, palpable. She also brings resounding amounts of disenchantment and biting bitterness to the character as she witnesses the missteps of Imelda along her journey.
Across the 26 tracks, there are many standout performances and tracks that become instant favorites. The title number "Here Lies Love" serves as a fantastic set up for the character of Imelda Marcos, showcasing her desire to please her people while exposing the undercurrents of her own naivety. On "The Rose of Tacloban" Ruthie Ann Miles sings with passion, giving listeners the Imelda Marcos version of "Good Night and Thank You." For "Eleven Days," Ruthie Ann Miles brings out the giddy joy of courtship. It's electronic dance beats are not what we're expecting at that moment in the score, which makes the track all the more refreshing and fun. Even if it might sound a bit too much like Alan Menken's "Colors of the Wind" at the beginning, Melody Butiu steals the show with her emotional vocals on "When She Passed By." Closing the first disc, the funky beats and strong female empowerment lyrics of "Men Will Do Anything," in addition to Maria-Christina Oliveras' nasal tonality, makes this song irresistible and wonderful.
The second disc opens with a bang, both "Star and Slave" and "Poor Me" captivate listeners with Ruthie Ann Miles charming vocals and the lyrics that show how Imelda Marcos dealt with the pressures of a cheating husband in the public eye. Melody Butiu steals the show again with her wonderfully bitter and biting performance of "Solano Avenue." Conrad Ricamora's lyric baritone is striking on the lovely and altogether depressing ballad "Gate 37." As the show nears its close, Ruthie Ann Miles is sensationally impassioned and angry on the piercing "Why Don't You Love Me." Kevin Moon Loh moves listeners with the show's quiet and expressive finale, "God Draws Straight." Then, leaving listeners on a positive note, the cast reprises the title song for the ebullient "Here Lies Love (Curtain Call)."
Listening to the album I can't even imagine how the show is staged, but I know that I would love to see it. Like all great cast recordings, Here Lies Love (Original Cast Recording) gives me a sense of the story, captures the music beautifully, and leaves me longing to see the musical in production. Add in the playful use of electronic music, the overtones of Philippine Pop, and the sincerity of David Byrne's lyrics, and Here Lies Love (Original Cast Recording) is one of the best albums I've had the chance to experience since I began reviewing music for BroadwayWorld. It is easy to see, well hear, why this musical has been one of the most celebrated new musicals of the 2013-14 season.
Nonesuch digitally released Here Lies Love (Original Cast Recording) on April 22, 2014. Physical copies of the album became available on May 6, 2014. The bubbly, fun, and even thought-provoking pop-laden Here Lies Love (Original Cast Recording) can be purchased from iTunes, Amazon, and elsewhere music is sold.
HERE LIES LOVE opened on April 24, 2013 at the Public Theater's LuEsther Hall, 425 Lafayette Street, New York City, New York 10003. It closed that following July, but the show returned to the Public Theater on May 1, 2014. Tickets are currently on sale through September 6, 2014. For tickets and more information about Here Lies Love, please visit http://www.herelieslove.com or call (212) 967-7555.
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