This story has been updated throughout.
In a huge win for Broadway musicians union Local 802 of American Federation of Musicians, the producers of Broadway's Here Lies Love have reversed course and have now agreed to hire 12 union musicians to play performances. The production had planned to perform to pre-recorded tracks, which would have been a historic first for a full Broadway musical. AFM has been steadfast in opposing the plan since it was officially revealed last month.
Playbill has confirmed via a Local 802 representative that three of the 12 will be actor-musicians that the production was already planning on using. As part of the agreement, all three will become members of Local 802. Here Lies Love confirmed with Playbill that the show will also have a music director, J. Oconer Navarro, who is also a member of Local 802. The musicians will perform during the show, and pre-recorded tracks will also be used.
The end to the fight still reflects a compromise between the two parties; AFM's contract mandates a minimum of 19 union musicians for musicals playing the Broadway Theatre, which will house Here Lies Love. An approved waiver to that minimum is not uncommon. Productions can request a "Special Situation" designation, a move that has been used for a number of productions aiming to create a sound that makes the theatre's musician minimum unnecessary. The contract stipulates that this decision be made based on artistic merit and not budgets, and via a panel comprising representatives from the production team, Local 802, and neutral parties.
"After negotiation, we have reached an agreement that will bring live music to Here Lies Love with the inclusion of 12 musicians to the show," reads a statement provided to Playbill from Local 802 Union President and Executive Director Tino Gagliardi. "Broadway is a very special place with the best musicians and performances in the world, and we are glad this agreement honors that tradition." It should be noted that Here Lies Love was always planning to use three actor-musicians, the difference is now they will be Local 802 members.
The producers of Here Lies Love has also provided a statement: "On behalf of our entire cast, company and creative team, we have reached an agreement with Musicians Union Local 802, per the collective bargaining agreement. We look forward to welcoming audiences to experience the revolutionary musical experience that is Here Lies Love at the Broadway Theatre beginning on Saturday, June 17.
"Under the CBA special situations designation Here Lies Love will have 12 802 members, which includes the 3 actor musicians playing the live music they’ve always played and our MD. As in its previous iterations, the musical’s artistic integrity and musical concept remains."
The production had claimed the usage of pre-recorded tracks was not a cost-cutting measure, but rather an artistic decision derived from the Filipino tradition of karaoke.
Local 802 framed the move as a labor issue. Essentially calling out the production's cultural argument as a false flag, union representatives were quick to point out that the kind of music the production was talking about was achievable with live musicians, and isn't without precedence on the Main Stem. Past productions, including American Psycho and current runs of & Juliet and Once Upon a One More Time, have recreated a canned studio style of music with small bands, keyboards, and sequencing technology—all expressly approved by the union and preserving jobs for Local 802 members.
The use of pre-recorded tracks is not entirely without precedent. Contact, which won Best Musical at the 2000 Tony Awards, performed entirely to pre-existing, pre-recorded tracks—though the production's designation as a musical rather than a dance piece drew critique from many in the industry, since there was also no live singing. More recently, the also-dance-heavy The Little Prince performed without any live musicians—though, like Contact, the piece was not what most would call a traditional musical theatre production.
This fight is the latest in a long battle between producers and AFM over Broadway pit sizes. Since the development of electronic keyboards, which can augment other instrumental players or outright replace multiple players with just one keyboardist, AFM has struggled to keep the large, orchestral pits of yesteryear alive. Large orchestras as we're currently seeing with Camelot and Sweeney Todd (both, worth mentioning, revivals of well-loved titles with baked-in audience interest) have become the exception rather than the norm. It has been suggested that The Phantom of the Opera's large orchestra size is among the reasons the long-running production closed. The West End version returned after the COVID-19 shutdown with a new and dramatically reduced orchestra that relies more on keyboard instrument replacement and augmentation, an orchestration that is expected to be used in any potential Broadway return for the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical.
Here Lies Love will begin previews June 17 at the Broadway Theatre. Based on a real story, the musical follows Imelda Marcos, whose husband Ferdinand Marcos was the 10th president of the Philippines and ruled as dictator for 20 years until 1986. During his regime, Philippine senator Ninoy Aquino was the Marcos family's leading critic until being assassinated in 1983. His murder sparked the People Power Revolution, which led to the removal of Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos from power.
Leading the cast is Arielle Jacobs as Imelda Marcos, with Jose Llana as Ferdinand Marcos and Conrad Ricamora as Ninoy Aquino. Salonga will play Aurora Aquino in a limited guest engagement July 11-August 13. Aurora is the mother of Ninoy Aquino. Following her run, guest stars from the Philippines will take over the role. Both Llana and Ricamora reprise their performances from the musical's Off-Broadway run.
The musical features a score by Grammy, Tony, and Oscar winner David Byrne and Grammy winner Fatboy Slim, with music by both and concept and lyrics by Byrne. Returning to the project are original director Alex Timbers (Moulin Rouge) and choreographer Annie-B Parson. The quartet, led by Timbers, have developed the musical over the course of a decade. Tom Gandey and J Pardo will also contribute additional music for the production, which will feature an immersive dance club staging in the recently reconfigured theatre.
Following its original 2013 Off-Broadway run at The Public, Here Lies Love ran at the National Theater in London in 2014 and Seattle Rep in 2017. Each production was met with a variety of responses, and conversations have cropped up again on social media as attention returns to the musical with the upcoming Broadway run. In response to online criticism, the official Here Lies Love Broadway accounts on Twitter and Instagram published a lengthy statement that included the production's intentions in portraying this vulnerable moment in Filipino history onstage in 2023. Read more here.
Alex Timbers' creative team will include choreographer Parson, music director J. Oconer Navarro, Tony-nominated scenic designer David Korins, Tony-winning costume designer Clint Ramos, Tony-winning lighting designer Justin Townsend, sound designers M.L. Dogg and Cody Spencer, Tony-nominated projection designer Peter Nigrini, cultural and community liaison Giselle “G” Töngi, and musical director J. Oconer Navarro. Casting is by Tara Rubin, Xavier Rubiano, and Gail Quintos. Bobby Garcia served as casting consultant. General management will be by Foresight Theatrical.