Ann Miles, Jose Llana Photo by Joan
by Stewart Schulman
a new trend in musical theater, and it seems to be taking the industry by storm.
It involves attempting to tell a story with as little traditional ‘book’ as
possible. For example: String a libretto of pop-rock-style songs together.
Hire an energetic uber-talented cast. Come up with some dynamic contemporary
choreography. Direct what little actual book there is with a lot of smoke and
mirrors—literally. Pay for some top-notch costumes and lighting. Stage it all
in a moving—literally—environmental setting. Move your cast, and your
audience, around in circles—literally—along with that ever-moving, ever-changing
set-piece. And fill the surrounding walls with incredibly creative documentary
projections. And you’ve got your show. At least you’ve got Here Lies Love,
the show currently playing in The Public Theater’s Studio 54-ish LuEsther Hall—complete
with dance club lighting and disco ball.
story itself, what little there is, is based on the life and loves (or not), of
Imelda Marcos, wife of the late Ferdinand Marcos. It follows the young Imelda from
her days of incredible poverty in her hometown of Tacloban, to her
disappointing relationship with politician Benigno Aquino, Jr., her rise in
status as a beauty queen/super-model—“The Muse Of Manila”, her marriage to the rising
political star Ferdinand Marcos, and their rise and ultimate fall as the darling
dictators of the Philippines—the beloved and hated Eva and Juan Perons of the
Pacific from 1966 to 1986.
Ann Miles Photo
by Joan Marcus
bullet points of her life are all there. What is missing in Here Lies Love,
(concept and lyrics by David Byrne, music by Mr. Byrne and Fatboy Slim, with
additional music by Tom Gandey & J Pardo), are the details that might give more
emotional and socio-political context to the outline of Imelda’s life’s story—which
is a fascinating real-life tale of the poor little girl from nowhere who
navigates her life to become First Lady of her beloved country. This,
according to the creators, is in part intentional.
her own lifetime Imelda became a symbol for style, cultural reform and
enhancement, (ie, the Arts – with the capital ‘A’). And through those efforts,
she put the Philippines on the map as it had never before been—beautifying her
country and leaving a legacy of excess and fiscal corruption behind her that
has made Marie Antoinette’s 18th century excesses appear tame by
comparison. Yet Imelda’s legend stands. Upon her return from exile in 1991 she
served her people, at their command, and by legal election, in different posts at
various times throughout the past twenty years. Quite a feat for a dame who
fled her own country for her life by U.S. chopper and has since been accused of
robbing between five and ten billion dollars from her ‘beloved’ country-folk,
not all of which could have been spent on the thousands of pairs of designer
shoes she allegedly owned. Spoiler alert: Only two pairs are ever seen on her
feet during this show.
Ruthie Ann Miles and cast Photo by Joan Marcus
said… audiences appear to love the piece. The energetic choreography by Annie-B
Parson, the effective design elements, (scenery - David Korins, costumes -
Clint Ramos, lighting - Justin Townsend, sound - M.I. Dogg & Cody Spencer,
projections - Peter Nigrini), the environmental staging by director Alex
Timbers, all seem to please. The audience also seems to enjoy standing for the
90-minute show and being shunted around en masse as the set moves—a little too
much like cattle for this reviewer’s taste—and mixing with the performers as
they make their way through the happy crowd and the turbulent years of Imelda’s
is something to be said for being ‘part of’ something as dynamic as this show
is and feeling in some way ‘part’ of the incredible cast which brings the saga
to life. Ruthie Ann Miles gives a star turn as Imelda—going from a beautiful
young innocent girl to the jaded fallen Mrs. Marcos some 40 years later. Jose
Llana’s Ferdinand Marcos seduces not only his future wife and his ‘people’ but
the members of the audience he appeals to on live TV, as well. (A fun
effect.) And Conrad Ricamora’s Aquino is a worthy adversary to the “conjugal
dictators” he rallies against. Melody Butiu as Estrella, Imelda’s loyal maid,
and Natalie Cortez, Aquino’s mother, fill out the principal cast quite well.
The rest of the ensemble works overtime to bring zest and life to the piece.
in all, “Here Lies Love” is an energetic “immersive” theatrical experience with
a great cast and a great true story, unfortunately mostly untold. For all of
its ebullient energy and exciting theatrical effects, it ultimately feels a
little like: love, loss, what I wore, and Manila, why don’t you love me?
The Public Theatre, 425 Layayette St., NYC.
(212) 967-7555, or www.herelieslove.publictheater.org. Running
time: 90 minutes