David Byrne musical about Imelda Marcos developed in North Adams

David Byrne is best known for his work as the frontman and principle songwriter for the Talking Heads, but he’s written  for opera and ballet, and, on his most recent rock tour, integrated three modern dancers into the show. This week he’s at the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art for a series of workshop performances of his latest project, a  musical set to electronic beats telling the story of infamous Filipina First Lady Imelda Marcos. He’s brought in one of Broadway’s rising stars to direct. New England Public Radio’s Jeremy Goodwin has the story.

 It’s tricky business getting an audience to connect emotionally with your protagonist when you write a musical about a notorious figure. So the team behind Here Lies Love looked at musicals like Sweeney Todd and Gypsy to see how others have dealt with main characters who have, as director Alex Timbers puts it, likability issues.

 “With this production we’re not glorifying Imelda Marcos in any way, but we are investigating the psychology of a person in power and a person that abuses power.”

 At 33, Timbers is a much-decorated director and writer, earning two prestigious Obie awards and receiving Tony nominations for best director and best book.

 For this immersive theatre experience, including video projections and lighting design meant to evoke the atmosphere of a disco, the audience is surrounded on all sides by actors performing the work of David Byrne and his collaborator, the electronic music producer Fatboy Slim. 

 Timbers says Byrne has clear ideas about the show, but is a gracious collaborator—cutting songs or writing new ones through a three-week residency at Mass MoCA.

 “Dave and I were able to be completely candid about what we thought was working and what we thought, you know, could be more successful in terms of you know, how we were setting out to create the production. It’s been a really sort of lovely collaboration, I wish all collaborations were as easy.”

 Here Lies Love  has a series of sold out workshops at MoCA through Sunday. It’s scheduled to open at New York’s Public Theatre in April 2013. For New England Public Radio, I’m Jeremy Goodwin.