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Broadway Musicians’ Union object to David Byrne’s musical Here Lies Love

31 May 2023, 12:39 | Written by Tyler Damara Kelly

The show plans to use recorded music instead of a live band, but a labor union says that musicians are required for musicals.

The musical is an immersive tale about Imelda Marcos, the former first lady of the Philippines, and is set in a dance club environment. Developed and directed by Alex Timbers, Here Lies Love features music by Byrne and Fatboy Slim, with additional music by Tom Gandey and J Pardo.

The musical has previously been staged Off Broadway, in London and in Seattle, each time with a singing cast accompanied by recorded music, but now, as it's set to hit Broadway, the Musicians Union are objecting to the lack of musicians involved.

Local 802 of the American Federation of Musicians says its contract with the Broadway League requires the use of 19 musicians for musicals at the Broadway Theatre. For three months, the producers of Here Lies Love – led by Hal Luftig – have been trying to get the show declared a “special situation", which is a category in the labour agreement that allows for the employment of fewer musicians.

Whilst there have been many Broadway shows which have operated with a reduced orchestra, it is a rare case to have a musical completely without an orchestra.

Here Lies Love has posted a statement in regards to their appeal to Broadway. Noting that using pre-recorded music is intrinsic to what the show is all about.

"Karaoke, or singalong, is deeply rooted in Filipino culture and the diasporic Asian culture at large. In the Philipines, karaoke is ubiquitous, crossing class, generational, and economic lines. Almost every Philippine home has a karaoke machine, or a microphone that turns your television into a karaoke machine." The statement goes on to say that when Byrne went to the Philippines to research the show, he released that karaoke was "inescapable", and "prevalent in Imelda Marcos' political strategy".

The musicians are disappointed that the request is coming from a show associated with Byrne: “I was really excited that David Byrne was bringing something else to Broadway,” said Ray Cetta, a bass player and union member who has occasionally played in the band for Chicago. “The current situation is very surprising and disheartening. Any musician would want to work with David Byrne and bring his music to life.”

Here Lies Love is not a traditional Broadway musical,” Byrne's statement continues. “The music is drawn outside of the traditional musical genre. The performance of the live vocals to pre-recorded, artificial tracks is paramount to its artistic concept. Production has ripped out the seats in the theatre and built a dance floor. There is no longer a proscenium stage. The Broadway Theatre has been transformed into a nightclub, with every theatre-goer immersed in the experience.

"Broadway must create space for boundary-pushing creative work. Broadway is also the venue for a well conceived, high-quality show that highlights the valued traditions of specific cultures whose stories have never been on its stages. Here Lies Love does not believe in artistic gate-keepers. Here Lies Love believes in a Broadway for everyone, where new creative forms push the medium and create new traditions and audiences."

Here Lies Love features the first all-Filipino cast to perform on Broadway, including Arielle Jacobs, Jose Llana, and Conrad Ricamora.

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