The producers of Broadway's Here Lies Love—comprising Patrick Catullo, Hal Luftig and Kevin Connor, Jose Antonio Vargas, Diana DiMenna, and Clint Ramos—have released another statement in response to the recent revelation that the production plans to perform with pre-recorded tracks in lieu of live musicians.
The production claims the decision is not a cost-cutting measure, but rather an artistic decision derived from the Filipino tradition of karaoke. The Local 802 of American Federation of Musicians, which represents musicians on Broadway, has been firm in opposing the move, framing the brouhaha as a labor issue. AFM representatives have made it clear that they view the production's cultural arguments a false flag, pointing out that the exact type of music they describe is achievable with live musicians. 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 and keyboard and sequencing technology—all expressly approved by the union and preserving jobs for Local 802 members.
The new statement from Here Lies Love's producers mostly re-hashes arguments they've made previously on Instagram and to Variety, while newly pointing out that the production does use "at least" three actor-musicians. Past stagings have included cast members playing instruments live for one number, and apparently we can expect that to carry over to the upcoming Broadway premiere.
Whether this would settle Local 802's grievances—which stem from a negotiated contract that mandate producers hire a minimum of 19 AFM members for any musical at the Broadway Theatre—is more complex. The John Doyle-directed revivals of Sweeney Todd and Company, both of which featured a cast of actor-musicians in lieu of any offstage or pit musicians, were authorized to proceed by having their casts join Local 802 and be paid as both actors and musicians. This scenario does not generally happen when there are brief moments of actors playing instruments, as seems to be plan for Here Lies Love.
According to the established agreement between Broadway producers and AFM, productions can request for a "Special Situation" designation, effectively a waiver to the theatre's mandated musician minimum. We already know that request is in process for Here Lies Love, and according to this latest statement, "no decision" has yet been made by the panel gathered to adjudicate the request. In fact, the statement also reveals a panel has not yet even gathered. According to the AFM contract, that committee will include representatives for producers, Local 802, and one or more neutral parties.
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.
The development 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 as well.
Writes the producers of Here Lies Love: "We recognize and celebrate the vast array of plays and musicals, styles and genres, which make up the Broadway landscape, and are grateful that each show exists on its own merit as a piece of commercial art. As we have for all of our show's critically acclaimed runs in New York, London and Seattle, we trust our audiences' and critics' enthusiastic responses, and look forward to welcoming everyone to experience Here Lies Love for themselves. Here Lies Love is an experiential redefinition of what Broadway can be; one that expands the creative offerings available to audiences and creates an invitation for new audiences to join us in experiencing live theatre." Apparently the production hopes to include musicals without live orchestras as part of that redefinition of Broadway. The show would be the first full Broadway musical to perform without live musicians.
Here Lies Love is scheduled to begin previews June 17 at the Broadway Theatre. Should an agreement not be made by June 17 between the show and the union, the production will likely face picketing musicians at the Broadway Theatre and mounting pressure for other Broadway unions to join the picket line. So far, industry unions have stayed quiet about the struggle, though AEA did write in a tweet, "Here Lies Love is the first Broadway musical with no live musicians, relying mostly on a pre-recorded soundtrack. This choice is an attack on professional musicians."
Based on a real story, Here Lies Love 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.
Read the full statement from Here Lies Love producers Patrick Catullo, Hal Luftig and Kevin Connor, Jose Antonio Vargas, Diana DiMenna, and Clint Ramos
We, the Lead Producers of Here Lies Love, have since February 2023 been actively engaged in and totally compliant with the established Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) procedures for requesting a Special Situations designation from Local 802, which we and the musical's creators firmly believe the show warrants. The negotiated long-established criteria for granting a Special Situations designation states that the issue shall be decided “based primarily on artistic considerations.” Further, the CBA provides that:
"If a production meets the criteria set forth in any of the following categories, it shall qualify as a Special Situation and shall be permitted to perform with the requested smaller orchestra. The criteria for determining whether a production calls for a smaller orchestra are: (i) the concept expressed by the composer and/or orchestrator; (ii) whether the production is of a definable musical genre different from a traditional Broadway musical; (iii) the production concept expressed by the director and/or choreographer; and/or (iv) whether the production re-creates a pre-existing size band or band's sound (on or offstage).
"Other considerations which shall be taken into account but which would not necessarily be determinative include but are not limited to: whether the show was previously presented with a smaller orchestra in a production of a professional caliber comparable to Broadway (e.g. London's West End), or whether the production was required to book a theatre with a minimum higher than the intended number of musicians due to change of theatre. A production which meets the criteria set forth in this paragraph may be denied Special Situation status only for demonstrable reasons."
The Special Situations designation as an exception from the otherwise applicable house minimum musician staffing requirements and the process through which it is to be determined has been re-affirmed in every contract since it was first approved in 2003 by AFM, Local 802 and the Broadway League in their Collective Bargaining Agreement.
In addition to always maintaining that the show would have at least three actor-musicians (never zero), we have also been engaged in good faith discussions with the union over how best to resolve this issue. The next step in the Special Situations determination process will be the empaneling of a review committee composed of representatives for the producers, Local 802 and one or more neutral parties who will make a recommendation regarding the application of the contractual provisions above. No decision has therefore been made by the Neutral panel to date.
It is because we believe in and respect the CBA that we have followed its guidelines so closely. We trust the CBA to work as intended and look forward to reaching a resolution. To be clear: it is still our goal to resolve this matter quickly and reasonably for all involved, while maintaining our responsibility to facilitate the original vision of our creative team.
We stand by our creative team's artistic choices and are proud of the historic moment we are bringing to Broadway with the first-ever all-Filipino cast. In this truly binational production, we have rooted our decisions in authenticity and excellence. The rich cultural history of karaoke is a valued component of Filipino and other AAPI traditions and communities. Alongside our premium production values and revolutionary immersive form, we affirm it as an essential conceptual construct for the many non-traditional genres our musical contains.
We recognize and celebrate the vast array of plays and musicals, styles and genres, which make up the Broadway landscape, and are grateful that each show exists on its own merit as a piece of commercial art. As we have for all of our show's critically acclaimed runs in New York, London and Seattle, we trust our audiences' and critics' enthusiastic responses, and look forward to welcoming everyone to experience Here Lies Love for themselves. Here Lies Love is an experiential redefinition of what Broadway can be; one that expands the creative offerings available to audiences and creates an invitation for new audiences to join us in experiencing live theatre.
We and our colleagues have and continue to conduct ourselves with integrity. We believe our petition for Special Situations is completely justified and warranted. We have always intended to abide by the results of the established procedure in which we are engaged.
Here Lies Love is led by 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.