Here Lies Love – A Song Cycle
@ Ridley Centre (Royal Adelaide Showgrounds)
5:00pm, Sat 11 Mar 2006
Of all my picks for the 2006 Festival, this was the one I was most dubious about; a musical inspired by the “phenomenon” of Imelda Marcos, with the names “David Byrne” and “Fatboy Slim” attached. But, walking into the Ridley Centre, I thought the opulent promises of the Festival Guide may be valid – it was like walking into a huge club. Yes, there was seating down the back (bugger, I only had a GA ticket), but otherwise this really looked the part: bars down either side, huge raised stage, disco glitterballs a-plenty, a huge dance-floor that wound up being populated by people lying down.
Oh, and a two-hour-fifteen-minute running time. Which differed a bit from the 90 minutes advertised.
Umm… warning bells.
The performance starts with the band walking onstage. This is so obviously Byrne’s baby, although slightly to the right, he’s very much center stage. He issues a short statement about Imelda’s early life, then we’re into the first song. It’s pleasant. At the end of the song, Byrne had another little talk, reveals another snippet. Then another song.
Song, talk, song, talk, song, talk.
There’s no stage performance to speak of, save for Dana Diaz-Tutaan and Ganda Suthivarakom (singing for Imelda and Estrella, respectively) dancing a little. Just song, talk, song, talk. Occasionally, the screen behind the stage would change from its lush colour backing and display some stock footage of the Marcos’, overlaid (or interspersed) with bold text messages. These were nicely synchronised with the songs, but other than that… this was a concert.
Not a theatrical performance, not a musical – a concert.
A David Byrne concert.
Being utterly fair, some of the songs (and all of the band & singers) were great: in amongst the overall latin influence, there’s plenty of lush synth fills and highlights and flourishes (“11 Days”, in particular, stands out); there’s a great ominosity to “Order 1081”; and title track (especially in it’s closing reprise) was pure disco.
But there’s these huge talking gaps between songs. And were the sordid details of Ferdinand’s affair necessary? Was the “Americans” song (which was of more current political intent than appropriate to the piece) necessary? In fact, when the most popular knowledge of Imelda was her shoe collection, one has to wonder – what is this “phenomenon” that Byrne speaks of?
By the end of Here Lies Love, only two things interested me – that Ganda Suthivarakom was singing the roles of Estrella (she’d previously done work with one of my favourite bands, Cibo Matto), and the desire to get to my next show on time (thanks for adding 45 minutes to the performance, guys. Did Mr Byrne write another couple of songs in the meantime?)
The program for Here Lies Love indicates that this “is the first sketch of this project.” That’s certainly what it felt like; though polished in the extreme, this performance felt hollow and lacking.