Whoever thought that Imelda Marcos would make good fodder for a hot, hip pop-rock operetta? And not even include anything about shoes? David Byrne (of the Talking Heads and Fatboy Slim, that’s who (additional music by Tom Gandey & J. Pardo)! It’s happening at the Public Theater where lights are flashing, projections are projecting, disco mirror balls are turning, and portable stages are spinning.
The Filipino first lady was just your everyday beauty-disco queen when Ferdinand discovered her and whisked her to stardom as they became ruling despot keepers of their country. But the emphasis is more on the glamour, the clothes, the discos, the high life and one big party, party at the expense of a nation.
There is no dialogue in this 90 minute, no intermission, standing room only production, as the audience moves along, turning to watch the performers on the various stages (turn-table design by David Korins) in this moveable feast of music and talent, sometimes singing along, sometimes dancing. When entering, you are guided into positions around the space by pink jumpsuit clad ushers to loud music which becomes less abrasive once the actual production begins and you can appreciate the cleverly laid out storyline and direction by Alex Timbers, with hot spot-on choreography by Annie-B Parson. All the while, we’re watching and listening to DJ Kelvin Moon Loh, planted in a booth atop the action below while impeccable creative lighting design resonates its brilliance (Justin Towsend), aided with projections by Peter Nigrini.
Ruthie Ann Miles, in the title role as Imelda, is flawless against her counterpart Jose LLana as Marcos. Their fantasy-land marriage falls apart as Ferdinand’s indiscretions haunt Imelda, and the country decays in poverty, an inferno of corruption of the two leaders’ misuse of monies.
Against the beautiful and melodic title song “Here Lies Love” is the distressing “Order 1081,” the ordinance of martial law that brought death, rendered the people powerless, and gagged the press.
The other main characters are idealist, childhood sweetheart Aquino (Conrad Ricamora) – in an especially memorable “Child of the Philippines” who is eventually imprisoned and then forced to leave Manila for the US, only to return and to be shot. Imelda’s childhood friend who raised her, Estrella Cumpas (Melody Butiu), is also a powerful portrayal. They are glorious singer-performers, the main ingredient that flows throughout the entire cast. The other cast members are: Renee Albulario, Natalie Cortez, Debralee Daco, Joshua Dela Cruz, Jeigh Madjus, Maria-Christina Oliveras, Trevor Salter, Janelle Velasquez.
The production weaves every emotion as it revels in delight and pathos with the additional component of audience interaction to which they respond with glee. It truly is an elating experience.
The glittery and impressive costumes are designed by Clint Ramos.
All the while, Imelda is amazed that she is no longer the public’s darling with a complete lack of understanding that is expressed in “Why Don’t You Love Me?”
As a post-script, Imelda is eventually air lifted out of Manila by US Marines in 1986 at the end of her reign of terror for her own safety and is now 83 years old.
*Photo Joan Marcus
“Here Lies Love” continues at the Public Theater at 425 Lafayette Street, NYC thru June 30th. www.publictheater.org