David Byrne is best known for his band Talking Heads. Well, now, he's working on his first musical. It's called "Here Lies Love," and it's about Imelda Marcos, the wife of the former dictator of the Philippines. She may be best remembered for her fondness for shoes.

Well, Andrea Shea, of member station WBUR, dropped by a rehearsal at the Williamstown Theatre Festival in Massachusetts.

DAVID BYRNE: Hey actors, I'm going to call out your name...

ANDREA SHEA, BYLINE: It's tech rehearsal. The director and 12 Filipino-American actors are all connected through lavaliere mics, as the crew tweaks the lighting and sound.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS: (Singing) With my heart and with my soul...

BYRNE: Let's hold. Let's go back. We need to be in the right light cue. Thanks.

SHEA: This is a very big moment for David Byrne. The ideas behind his first musical have been bumping around in his head for a long time.

BYRNE: For years, I'd thought - I'm not alone in this - that the kind of world that a powerful person builds around themselves, it becomes this little world unto itself as they create a little bubble.

SHEA: But Byrne kept those thoughts to himself until he started reading about Imelda Marcos, and discovered she loved discos.

BYRNE: She had a mirror ball installed in her New York townhouse. There's not many of us can make that claim. And I thought wow, here's somebody who lives in one of those bubble worlds, who brings their own soundtrack.


SHEA: So Byrne started reading biographies, and watching old news footage.

BYRNE: I made notes of things that they said in interviews, things that they wrote, quotations they gave - which were really useful. Many times, those found their way into the lyrics.

SHEA: The title, "Here Lies Love," comes from something Mrs. Marcos said in a documentary.

BYRNE: On her tombstone, she wants it to say: Here lies love. "And don't put my name, just put Here Lies Love."

And she was, you know, making a little soundbite there. But I thought, wow.


UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS: (Singing) Just say here lies love. Here lies love...

SHEA: But a disco musical about the over-the-top wife of a fallen dictator was not an easy sell. Byrne says New York producers didn't get it, and didn't want it. So he produced a concept CD two years ago, as a kind of demo.


UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS: (Singing) The most important things are love and beauty. It doesn't matter if you're rich or poor...

SHEA: Oskar Eustis, at the Public Theater, heard it and suggested Byrne take his idea to risk-taking director Alex Timbers, of "Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson" fame. But even he worried Byrnes' musical could be a kitschy send-up - or worse.

ALEX TIMBERS: I think a danger, whenever you're dealing with something like a - kind of Evita-like subject is a self-seriousness that is destructive. And I think this embraces the kind of irreverence of the concept of the project.

SHEA: But how do you make someone who abused her position of power so blatantly into a sympathetic character?

BYRNE: Uh, tricky question. A lot of the audience is going to come in not positively inclined to this person. If this is successful, you find yourself in this kind of quasi-uncomfortable position of empathizing with the wife of a dictator.

SHEA: And that's the tension they're looking for, says Alex Timbers.

TIMBERS: I think it's important to try to understand the kind of pathology behind someone who would so - sort of desperately seek and manipulate power. But I don't think she's the one that your heart breaks for, at the end of the show.

SHEA: He says the only way to find out who that person is, would be to go see the show when he and David Byrne take it to New York's Public Theater in the spring, after many more hours of tweaking.

SHEA: For NPR News, I'm Andrea Shea.



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