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‘Here Lies Love’ to use pre-recorded music; Broadway musicians launch public outcry

The musicians union alerted its members of the musical’s intention not to use live musicians; “Here Lies Love” producers respond.

View from the rear mezzanine of the Broadway Theatre for "Here Lies Love" (Rendering by David Korins)

The upcoming Broadway production of the musical “Here Lies Love” intends to employ a DJ and pre-recorded tracks rather than live musicians. This decision has caused a stir in the industry, specifically among Broadway musicians, after Tino Gagliardi, president of Local 802 (whose membership includes Broadway musicians) alerted membership that “Here Lies Love” would use no live musicians. Gagliardi sent an email to membership on May 29 and shared the news in his June President’s report, published May 30.

Local 802, the local chapter of the American Federation of Musicians for the Greater New York area, and the Broadway League have a collective bargaining agreement that stipulates a minimum number of live musicians that must be employed at each Broadway theater. The number at the Broadway Theatre, where “Here Lies Love” is scheduled to play, is 19. The agreement also states that producers must defend their reasoning for wanting to hire less than the required minimum to a “Special Situation” panel consisting of representatives from both Local 802 and the League, as well as neutral parties. The panel then votes on whether to allow the production to proceed with the reduced number of live musicians. If the decision isn’t accepted, it’s submitted to arbitration.

According to producers via a representative for the production, the League reached out to Local 802 on behalf of “Here Lies Love” when the Broadway production was first announced. Producers told Broadway News in a statement, “There have been multiple meetings with the union to review in detail the basis for applying for ‘Special Situation’ status.”

There are Broadway productions that have previously received this status and played with less than the contractually obligated number of musicians.

“The union has been able to ask questions, receive information about the production, and voice their concerns,” the statement from “Here Lies Love” producers continued. “This process is ongoing and may ultimately culminate in a final and binding arbitration decision, but until that time, we will continue to work in good faith with the union to move through the steps of the contractual process.”

But Local 802 has a firm stance on the issue. “A show with no live music and just pre-recorded tracks is absolutely an existential threat to Broadway — and is a cultural threat to musical theater worldwide,” Local 802 president and executive director Tino Gagliardi said in a statement. “For generations, audiences have experienced Broadway shows with live music performed by the best musicians in the world, and by using just pre-recorded tracks it not only cheapens the art it’s putting jobs and livelihoods at risk. Our musicians are heartbroken that David Byrne — a legend — is attempting this and we strongly hope he reconsiders.”

According to Local 802 records, the only other Broadway show to not utilize a live orchestra was “Contact” in 2000. The production had been granted special status. While “Contact” went on to win the Tony Award for Best Musical, it was decided that productions without live music would not be eligible to win the award going forward. This rule, if upheld, would eliminate “Here Lies Love” from contention in the Best Musical category in 2024.

“Here Lies Love” is scheduled to begin previews at the Broadway Theatre on June 17 ahead of an official opening night on July 20. The musical captures the story of Filipina First Lady Imelda Marcos, her rise to power and her subsequent fall to the People’s Power Revolution.

The concept and lyrics are by Tony, Oscar and Grammy winner David Byrne with music by Byrne and Grammy winner Fatboy Slim. Additional music is by Tom Gandey and J Pardo.

All previous productions of “Here Lies Love” leading up to the Broadway run has used a pre-recorded track. “This is part of the karaoke genre inherent to the musical and the production concept,” the representative for the production said. “The music for ‘Here Lies Love’ was inspired by the phenomena of ‘track acts’ which allowed club audiences to keep dancing, much like this production aims to do.”

But Local 802 claims the need for pre-recorded music to provide a specific sound is “patently false.”

Producers for “Here Lives Love” shared in their statement that the musical meets several considerations for a “Special Situation” panel including: “(i) the musical 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.”

In the four previous productions of “Here Lies Love” (the Public Theater in 2013, the return to the Public in 2014, the National Theatre in 2014 and Seattle Rep in 2017), three performers played instruments during the song titled “God Draws Straight.” In another number, “A Perfect Hand,” one of those same three performers played their instrument again.

“This deliberate limited use of instrumentation stands in stark contrast to the artifice of the synthetic sound of the dance tracks that dominate the musical’s regime-like proceedings and the raw earnestness of the three performers playing the acoustic instruments in one cathartic number,” producers said in a statement.

Aside from those instances, the show has always been performed to pre-recorded tracks. “Here Lies Love” released a history of the music in the production on its official Instagram.

Still, Gagliardi wrote in his newsletter to members that “we will be in the streets protesting” and has asked members to sign a petition addressed to Byrne and the show’s producers. No details for any protests have been announced.

“Here Lies Love” is being produced on Broadway by Hal Luftig, Patrick Catullo, Diana DiMenna for Plate Spinner Productions, Clint Ramos and Jose Antonio Vargas.

Broadway News will be following this developing story.