In The Public Theater’s production of David Byrne and Fat Boy Slim’s smash hit musical, Here Lies Love, Melody Butiu gives a heart-wrenching nuanced performance as Estrella Cumpas, Imelda Marcos’ yaya, garnering rave reviews when the Alex Timber helmed production played a critically raved-about, sold-out run last year, and was extended by popular demand four times.
Ben Brantley of the New York Times writes,”Then there’s Annie-B Parson’s choreography, which is wildly diverse and witty, ranging from peppy variations on vintage pop group backup dances to the measured, strangely menacing ballroom steps practiced by Imelda in her confrontations with Estrella (the rich-voiced Melody Butiu), a left-behind friend of her childhood…”
Born in New York and raised in Washington State, the award winning actress/singer resides in Los Angeles, where she works in film, television, and theatre. Melody will be making her Broadway debut in Dr. Zhivago in March 2015.
Melody has numerous world premieres under her belt including Here Lies Love at The Public Theater in New York, and regionally – Land of Smiles, The Intelligent Design of Jenny Chow (Pulitzer Prize nominated, AriZoni award for Best Actress in a Play), Shipwrecked! (by Donald Margulies, starring Gregory Itzin), Long Season (Perseverance Theatre in Alaska), A Perfect Wedding (Kirk Douglas Theatre), Dogeaters (La Jolla Playhouse).
Melody has also appeared in productions of Helen (Getty Villa), Nightmare Alley (Geffen Playhouse), Calligraphy (Playwrights’ Arena), A Winter People (Theatre @ Boston Court), The Theory of Everything (Singapore Rep and East West Players), Celebration of The Lizard (San Diego Rep), BOY (La Jolla Playhouse), A Little Night Music (East West Players), Long Story Short (San Diego Rep), 36 Views (Geva/Portland Center Stage/Laguna Playhouse), HAIR (Reprise!), and Golden Child (EWP).
A new production of Here Lies Love at London’s National Theatre has performances through January 8, 2015, and will open in Sydney in May 2015 as the theatrical center piece of the Vivid Festival. Click here to read about the Sydney production.
Last June, I was invited by my friend Jeanne Sakata, an actress and the playwright of the critically-acclaimed Hold These Truths, to see Here Lies Love during its inaugural run. She and Melody are longtime pals and colleagues who both reside in L.A., and Melody was gracious enough to have brunch with us pre show. Melody talked about her path to Here Lies Love, working with David Byrne, and what it means to be able to tell such a personal story of a people fighting for their country, dying for their country, for their voice to be heard.
Lia: Why is telling the story of Here Lies Love so personal for you?
Melody: We’re telling our parents’ history. My parents left just before martial law was declared, so it’s very personal. They left my brother when he was just a few months old, with my grandparents, so they could come to the US and start a life here. They had to wait years before they were able to bring my brother to America. They sacrificed so much for us to have a life here.
To be able to tell the story in a way that is immersive and feels really groundbreaking, moving, and has something to say politically, has been such a gift. It is so important. It’s special to be a part of it. What’s really neat is how subversive it is because David Byrne’s music is so fantastic, you get swept up in it. You get swept up in the disco, in the charm of the Imelda and Ferdinand Marcos, in the lights and the projections, and then you find yourself dancing to a very dark history. I hope people walk away with a deeper perspective of that time.
Lia: When did you first get involved with Here Lies Love?
Melody: I first got involved when David was writing it and preparing for a concert version of HERE LIES LOVE for the Adelaide Festival in Australia in 2006. So I flew out and auditioned at the end of 2005. I was cast as Estrella and sang on some of the demos. When the concert came about that following spring, I ended up not going. They lost some funding, and had some different producers, and I just got cut in the process. I had kept my eye on it since then, and even got the album when it was released.
Then, The Public Theater and Alex Timbers became involved and they started workshopping it. I was not involved with any of the workshops but I kept up with the news. When I found out they were holding auditions for the production, I knew it was time for me to throw my hat into the ring again. I had my manager call them, and they said they wanted to meet me. I auditioned in January 2013. I bit the bullet, bought a ticket, and flew out to New York. They had seen me on tape and they knew of me, and of course I had worked with David all those years ago, but I knew I had to audition in person, and leave it all in the room. In 2010, David released the concept album of HERE LIES LOVE, and at that time, the song cycle was primarily about Imelda and Estrella, who is her yaya. She raised her. Through the workshop process, the piece evolved to be more about the political rivalry with Ninoy Aquino and the People Power Revolution. Even though my part is a little smaller, it is still integral to the story.
Lia: What was it like being a fan of David Byrne’s music, having an opportunity to be part of this cast and working with him?
Melody: I was so shy when I first met him! When I sang on some of the demos back in 2005, when he was still writing the music, I was in the studio with him. I thought, “Oh my God, he’s a legend! Ask to take a picture. No, don’t do that! Just do your work.”
When we started rehearsals last year, I realized he’d worked so tirelessly to make sure he’d done his research. He has a whole library of books that we could choose from and read from. It would be interesting flipping through the books and realizing, “oh, that’s where he got that lyric.” You can see where the inspiration bubbled up for a lot of the lyrics, because so much of what he’s written is pulled directly from interviews, documentaries, recorded accounts. He’s been really diligent about that. I’ve seen how involved and how invested he is throughout this whole process. He was there every day during rehearsals, during previews, taking notes, making changes, making the cast Salabat, this Filipino ginger tea, steeping grated ginger in hot water and honey for our voices. He’s put so much care and respect into the show. It really feels like a gift. Some people in the Asian American theater community or the Filpino theater community might have been, “hmmm, who’s involved at the top?” They question why would this white guy be interested in telling our story. But David and our director, Alex Timbers, have treated it with such respect. The cast is predominantly Filipino, and we were all open to collaborating, asking questions, offering stories and insight throughout the process.
Why did David Byrne choose this story?
Melody: He was very interested in finding a political story to tell. I’ve heard him say that in doing his research and finding out about Imelda, he discovered she was very into disco. She loved to party at Studio 54, and had a disco ball in her New York town home and a disco ball in Malacañang Palace. He thought her rise and fall was very interesting, and felt like her life came with a soundtrack. He’s very interested in that pop and disco sensibility, with driving beats and great hooks. You have the audience dancing to a really dark story as well. They end up dancing with dictators.
Lia: Who is Estrella Cumpas?
Melody: She was Imelda’s yaya, her nanny, who lived with the family for several years. She helped to raise her, even after Imelda’s mother died. As Imelda became more and more powerful and moved to the big city and married Marcos, she forgot about her and denied her. A writer named Carmen Navarro Pedrosa was writing a book, an unauthorized biography about Imelda (The Untold Story of Imelda Marcos), found Estrella, and was interviewing her. Estrella was contradicting Imelda about the stories she had been telling about her childhood. Imelda had her sequestered, and put her under house arrest, so she would not talk to the press.
Imelda’s uncle was a powerful politician. The Romualdez name had political clout, but Imelda’s father (Vicente) and family were not rich. Imelda actually grew up very poor. Her mother, Remedios, was the second wife of her father, Vicente, who had an entire other family, before Imelda and her siblings were born. There was a lot of infighting between Vicente’s first family and Remedios, and she and Imelda and her siblings often slept in the garage. She was not as well off growing up as she would have liked people to believe.
Lia: What does Here Lies Love mean to you?
Melody: When I first heard about the project, I knew it was something special. I don’t know why, since I really didn’t know much about it. I knew I liked the music and that it was about Imelda Marcos, but I didn’t know anything about the structure of the piece, how it would be presented, its point of view. I just knew I wanted to be a part of it.
Having been involved, it has been such and incredible journey to tell this story and learn more about the past. I was really young when Aquino was assassinated and when the People Power Revolution happened. I remembered my parents being glued to their TV set, my grandparents crying, watching the protests, wondering what would happen next.
Here Lies Love examines the life of Imelda, tries to get into her head, tries to examine why she does what she does, without making an excuse for her. Some people worried that it would glamorize or venerate her, but I don’t think it does. It is rare opportunity to tell this story. At La Jolla Playhouse, I was in the original cast of Dogeaters, 16 years ago. And to the tell the story of the Filipino people, and to have audiences of all backgrounds come to learn the story, and leave, wanting to learn more, is pretty remarkable. Even young Filipinos, who may not know their own people’s history, are very moved by it.
The first time I heard the final song, “God Draws Straight,” was at rehearsal; I couldn’t stop crying. I thought, “This is why we’re doing what we’re doing.” Beyond the glitz of Imelda, beyond the rise and fall of her trajectory, beyond the disco ball, we tell the story of a people fighting for their country, dying for their country, for their voice to be heard. It’s really powerful to witness, but also powerful to be a part of.
Melody stars as Mary in Gina M. Garcia’s upcoming feature film, Untold. She also appears in the films, Blood Ransom and Atonal. Her television credits include, “Gotham,” “NCIS,” “Melissa & Joey,” “Harry’s Law,” “True Blood,” “No Ordinary Family,” “Desperate Housewives,” “Modern Family,” “Samantha Who,” “Cold Case,” “Without A Trace,” “Rules Of Engagement,” “Scrubs,” “Invasion,” and “General Hospital.” Melody received her MFA from UC San Diego. www.melodybutiu.com
Here Lies Love was conceived by David Byrne, and features lyrics by Byrne, music by Byrne and Fatboy Slim, additional music by Tom Gandey and J Pardo, and choreography by Annie-B Parson.
Within a pulsating dance club atmosphere, David Byrne and Fatboy Slim deconstruct the astonishing journey of Filipina First Lady Imelda Marcos retracing her meteoric rise to power and subsequent descent into infamy and disgrace at the end of the People Power Revolution. Here Lies Love is neither a period piece nor a biography, neither a play nor a traditional musical but an immersive theatrical event combining songs influenced by four decades of dance music, adrenaline-fueled choreography, and a remarkable 360-degree scenic and video environment to go beyond Imelda’s near-mythic obsession with shoes and explore the tragic consequences of the abuse of power. Here Lies Love is a 90-minute theatrical experience. Set within a dance club atmosphere, audiences stand and move with the actors.
Here Lies Love received the Outer Critics Circle Award for Outstanding New Off-Broadway Musical; an Obie Award for Outstanding Music and Lyrics; Drama Desk Awards for Outstanding Music, Lighting Design and Projection Design and Theatre World Awards for Ruthie Ann Miles (Imelda Marcos) and Conrad Ricamora (Aquino). Here Lies Love received a record 11 Lucille Lortel Awards nominations, and garnered 5 Lortel Awards, including Alex Timbers for Outstanding Director, Ruthie Ann Miles for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Musical, Clint Ramos for Outstanding Costume Design, Justin Townsend for Outstanding Lighting Design and M.L. Dogg and Cody Spencer for Outstanding Sound Design.
The current cast of Here Lies Love features, in alphabetical order: Renee Albulario, Carol Angeli, Billy Bustamante, Melody Butiu, Natalie Cortez, Debralee Daco, Rob Laqui, Jose Llana, Jaygee Macapugay, Jeigh Madjus, Maria-Christina Oliveras, Diane Phelan, Conrad Ricamora, Enrico Rodriguez, Janelle Velasquez, and Tobias Wong.
Tickets for Here Lies Love range from $99-$139. A limited number of $40 day-of-performance rush tickets will be available at The Public’s Taub Box Office (425 Lafayette Street, NYC) one hour before the start of each performance. The Fall performance schedule is as follows: Mondays and Tuesdays at 7 pm, Wednesdays and Thursdays at 8 pm, Fridays at 7 pm and 10:30 (the Late Night Disco!) and Saturdays at 5 pm and 9:30 pm. Tickets subject to availability, and the offer is good for two tickets per person, cash or credit cards. For more info and tickets to Here Lies Love, please visit http://www.herelieslove.com/.
Here Lies Love articles:
Photos: David Byrne, Jaygee Macapugay, Jose Llana and Conrad Ricamora Bring the ‘Here Lies Love’ Disco to the Apple Store Soho
Meet David Byrne, Here Lies Love Creator and Cast members Jaygee Macapugay, Jose Llana, and Conrad Ricamora at the Apple Store Soho
Jaygee Macapugay stars as Imeda Marcos in Here Lies Love at The Public, Beginning October 20, 2014
Catch Jaygee Macapugay as Imeda Marcos in Here Lies Love at The Public through August 23, 2014
Photos: Christine Toy Johnson, Baayork Lee, Jose Llana, Ann Harada, Dodie Pettit and More at Charles Randolph-Wright’s “Three Voices” concert series at Stage 72
Jaygee Macapugay to appear as Imeda Marcos in Here Lies Love at The Public, July 5-7, 2013
Lucille Lortel Awards for Here Lies Love, Fun Home, The Open House, Good Person of Szechwan
Jose Llana, Ruthie Ann Miles, Melody Butiu, Conrad Ricamora and More Open in David Byrne- Fatboy Slim’s Here Lies Love on May 1
Jose Llana, Ruthie Ann Miles, Melody Butiu, Conrad Ricamora and More Return for Here Lies Love; Previews Begin April 14, 2014
Nov. 25: David Byrne and the Cast of The Public Theater’s HERE LIES LOVE including Jose Llana, Ruthie Ann Miles, Conrad Ricamora, Melody Butiu and More to Host Benefit Concert for the Philippines at Terminal 5
Here Lies Love, Starring Jose Llana and Ruthie Ann Miles, Extends at The Public through July 28, 2013
Christine Toy Johnson, Thom Sesma, Ali Ewoldt, Jose Llana, Ann Harada, Telly Leung and More Set for The Asian American Composers and Lyricists Project at The Alice Griffin Jewel Box Theatre
Jose Llana, Ruthie Ann Miles, Maria-Christina Oliveras, Conrad Ricamora, Kelvin Moon Loh and More Set for World Premiere of David Byrne and Fatboy Slim’s Here Lies Love at The Public, April 2 – May 19, 2013
Other articles by Lia Chang:
Q & A with Playwright Camille Darby, 2014-15 Dramatists Guild Playwrighting Fellow
Costume Institute’s Spring 2015 Exhibition at Metropolitan Museum to Focus on Chinese Imagery in Art, Film, and Fashion, May 7–August 16, 2015
Nov. 18-Dec. 21: Pun Bandhu, Eileen Rivera, Ken Krugman, Joseph McGranaghan and Chiara Motley Set for Nelson T. Eusebio III Helmed ‘It’s a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play’ at Center Stage
TCG’s SPARK Leadership Program Class of 2014: Victor Maog, Nelson T. Eusebio III, Godfrey L. Simmons, Jr, Snehal Desai, Deena Selenow, Jacob G. Padrón, Jr., Karena Fiorenza Ingersoll, Kelvin Dinkins, LaTeshia Dezelle Ellerson, Lisa Portes
Nov. 17: Chapman Roberts, Loretta Abbott, André De Shields, David Greer, Norm Lewis, Cherine Anderson, Lawrence Evans, Colby Christina & Nicholas A. Jenkins to Receive Special AUDELCO Awards
2014 AUDELCO Nominations Announced; Ceremony at Peter Jay Sharp Theatre at Symphony Space on November 17
Suzan-Lori Parks’ Father Comes Home From The Wars, Extends at The Public Theater through November 30
Opening Night Photos: Father Comes Home From the Wars (Parts 1, 2 & 3) by Suzan-Lori Parks at The Public Theater
Photos: Tommy Tune, Bob Avian, Lee Roy Reams, Christine Toy Johnson, Orville Mendoza, Lori Tan Chinn, Raul Aranas, Virginia Wing and More Celebrate 2014 Paul Robeson Citation Award Recipient Baayork Lee
Photos: André De Shields, Adam Chanler-Berat, Jose Llana, Kevin Mambo, Rebecca Naomi Jones, Kyle Beltran, Kim Brockington and More at The Fortress of Solitude
Geoffrey Holder, Artist, Actor, Dancer, Choreographer, Two-Time Tony Award-winning Director and Costume Designer for The Wiz, Dies at 84; Son Pens Intimate Account of Last Days
Photos: Art Salon with Artist Yang Chihung and Dr. Agnes Hsu-Tang at New-York Historical Society
Celebrating my Mom – AN ACTIVE VISION: BEVERLY UMEHARA…LABOR ACTIVIST…1945-1999
Photos: Chinese American: Exclusion/Inclusion on View through April 19, 2015 at New York Historical Society
Coming to America through The Angel Island Immigration Station
Photos & Video: The Wiz’s André De Shields Sang “So You Wanted to Meet the Wizard” in The Black Stars of The Great White Way Broadway Reunion: Live The Dream at Carnegie Hall
Photos and Video: Ben Vereen Performs at Carnegie Hall in The Black Stars of The Great White Way Broadway Reunion: Live The Dream
Photos and Video: Obba Babatunde and cast members from the original cast of Dreamgirls perform at Carnegie Hall in The Black Stars of The Great White Way Broadway Reunion: Live The Dream
Joe Mantegna to Helm ‘Criminal Minds’ Season 10 Episode to Honor the late Meshach Taylor
Photos: Maxine Hong Kingston, Billie Tsien, Bill T. Jones, Linda Ronstadt, John Kander, Julia Alvarez, Jeffrey Katzenberg Receive 2013 National Medal of Arts from President Barack Obama
Photos: Artist Arlan Huang, One Brush Stroke at a Time
Joe Mantegna, Delta Burke, Gerald McRaney, President Bill Clinton and More Remember Meshach Taylor
Crafting a Career
Click here for the Lia Chang Articles Archive and here for the Lia Chang Photography Website.
Lia Chang is an actor, a performance and fine art botanical photographer, and an award-winning multi-platform journalist. Lia starred as Carole Barbara in Lorey Hayes’ Power Play at the 2013 National Black Theatre Festival in Winston-Salem, N.C., with Pauletta Pearson Washington, Roscoe Orman, and made her jazz vocalist debut in Rome Neal’s Banana Puddin’ Jazz “LADY” at the Nuyorican Poets Cafe in New York. She is profiled in Jade Magazine.
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