Show/Venue: Here Lies Love at the Public Theatre
Date: Wednesday, December 31st, 2014 @ 5pm
Starring: Jaygee Macapugay, Jose Llana, Conrad Ricamora, Melody Butiu
Why did I wait so long to see Here Lies Love? There’s no simple answer to this question. In a desperate attempt to see so many shows that are closing the first weekend of January, I booked a ticket to the New Year’s Eve show. Like most Americans, I mostly knew of Imelda Marcos due to her vast collection of shoes and her stance in pop culture trivia. I knew Fatboy Slim, thanks to his hits in the late 90’s and early 2000’s, but sadly, did not know much about David Byrne or the concept album that started this musical. The combination of their talents provided an amazing soundtrack to the show and made some of the darker material seem like a dance party.
The staging and direction of this show by Alex Timbers, who brilliantly oversaw the staging of Rocky that I enjoyed earlier in the year, was familiar and still revolutionary. LuEsther Hall in the Public Theatre had been transformed into Club Millennium, surrounded in neon lights, rotating graphics of Imelda and the Marcos family. Throughout the club, crew members dressed in hot pink jumpsuits, which the audience would depend on during the show.
Attending this show alone made the beginning of the experience a bit intimidating, but as the house DJ informed us, we would be moving with the interchangeable stage pieces and most likely would lose friends in the club, I relaxed. The DJ helped get the party started by cueing up a dance beat, as we followed the hot pink jumpsuits and learned how the stage pieces would move throughout the show and we would become part of the action. Then the show began and cast members raced out onto the various stages. (Right away, I noticed a familiar face, as Aaron J. Albano (Newsies), was in the ensemble.)
The show opens with a video about the Philippines and the Filipino obsession with American culture, in the number “American Troglodyte.” Then Imelda (Jaycee Macapugay) appears and the close relationship of her maid, Estrella (Melody Butiu), is established. Growing up poor in Tacloban, she learns to love the beauty of her country and becomes somewhat of a local celebrity singer (“Here Lies Love”) and beauty pageant queen, being dubbed the “Rose of Tacloban.”
The audience is then introduced to Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino, Jr., who is Imelda’s first love, and the audience welcomed with lots of cheering. In an award-winning role, Conrad Ricamora (How To Get Away With Murder), brings out all of Ninoy’s charisma and political ambitions in the up-tempo, dance number “Child of the Philippines.” We see Imelda & Ninoy’s relationship blossom through song and dance (“Opposite Attraction” and “The Rose of Tacloban”), but they eventually break up because she was “too tall.”
Shortly after, Imelda meets Ferdinand Marcos (“A Perfect Hand”/”Sugartime Baby”), when he spots her working in a shop and woos her. Their fast courtship is depicted in the song “Eleven Days,” as the country begins to see their relationship as a source of National Pride and compares them to JFK and Jackie. Imelda quickly improves her status by marrying Marcos and learning how to be a woman in the public eye (“Walk Like a Woman”/”Don’t You Agree?/Pretty Face”). She begins to forget her roots and lose a bit of herself. Her former maid and close friend, Estrella, sings about seeing her in a parade and how Imelda hardly noticed her in “When She Passed By.”
Quickly, enticed by the riches that Marcos brings her, Imelda travels to the United States and is introduced into the riches of art collecting and quickly begins to amass material goods (“Dancing Together”). In the meantime, the Filipino population is struggling to make ends meet. Aquino becomes a political rival to Marcos, as he starts to expose the Nation to the Marcos’ extravagant spending and showing everyone that they do not care for the people of their own country (“The Fabulous One”). In fact, when Marcos’ political term is about to end and he cannot be re-elected, he declares Marital Law and Order 1081 is enacted (“Riots and Bombs”/”Order 1081”). Marcos is then caught cheating on Imelda (“Men Will Do Anything”) and is stricken with Lupus. Imelda decides to take things into her own hands and to appeal to her country (“Star and Slave”/”Poor Me”/”Please Don’t”).
Aquino works to unite the Filipinos against the Marcos’, which lands him in prison for seven years. Due to illness, Imelda helps him & his family seek exile in the United States (“Seven Years”). However, as conditions worsen in the Philippines, Aquino risks his life to return home (“Gate 37”). When his plane lands, he is assassinated while walking down the staircase with a bullet to the head. His assassination helps stir the creation and movement of the People Power Revolution to overturn the Marcos’ government. Aquino’s mother speaks about Ninoy’s childhood in an appeal to the crowds in a beautiful number, “Just Ask the Flowers,” as she speaks of how he wanted to be a drummer and lead people. She realizes that his wish has been fulfilled in the movement of the People Power Revolution.
As the country stats the revolution, Imelda cannot seem to understand why her country has abandoned her (“Why Don’t You Love Me?”), as she eventually leaves the Philippines. The show closes with a song, “God Draws Straight,” featuring the words from the People Power Revolution and their peaceful protests. Members of the ensemble play various instruments as the DJ now speaks the words of the movement.
The curtain call brings the cast back together with a refrain of “Here Lies Love” and the story comes back full circle with Imelda remembering her days back in her small town. I also have to mention the brilliant job of the costume designer, Clint Ramos, as all of the character’s costumes were eye-catching, but not distracting from the story. They were completely influenced by traditional Filipino dress of the time, but seemed modern in the same breath.
I left the show feeling uplifted, wanted to know more about the history behind the people in the story and immediately wanted to see the show again. If you can, the show is still playing in London and I would highly recommend going. If only I’d listened to those posters in the Subway sooner, I would have been able to see this more than once.
1. American Troglodyte
2. Here Lies Love
3. Child of the Philippines
4. Opposite Attraction
5. The Rose of Tacloban
6. A Perfect Hand
7. Eleven Days
8. When She Passed By
9. Sugartime Baby
10. Walk Like a Woman
11. Don’t You Agree?/Pretty Face
12. Dancing Together
13. The Fabulous One
14. Men Will Do Anything
15. Star and Slave
16. Poor Me
17. Please Don’t
18. Solano Avenue
19. Riots and Bombs
20. Order 1081
21. Seven Years
22. Gate 37
23. Just Ask the Flowers
24. Why Don’t You Love Me?
25. God Draws Straight
26. Here Lies Love (Curtain Call)