Twelfth in a series of Broadway reports

NEW YORK – “Here Lies Love” is a historic musical, based on the political woes of Ferdinand Marcos, former president of the Philippines, and his notorious First Lady Imelda Marcos, who was the queen of shoes.

Historic, because this show boasts the first all-Filipino cast on Broadway, and the venue – the Broadway Theatre on Broadway — has been stripped of its orchestra seating for the first time to create a large “shoe box” for central performing space.

Also historic is the fact that prominent Phil-Ams have signed on and invested in the show as producers, including Lea Salonga, the first Filipina earning a Tony for her role as Kim in “Miss Saigon.” She’s also making a limited cameo appearance (see below).

This immersive theatrical extravaganza expands the format of the off-Broadway version of the show, where audience members strolled as the action moved, with thumping disco music and lighting effects dominating when there was no balladry, and actors and audience members constantly swirled, like the ocean tide, to create currents of flows.

The original by the off-Broadway Public Theatre, which I saw  in 2013, was tiny, daring, different, and strangely entertaining. You could stroll or boogie, amid the smaller “shoe box” staging, but I chose elevated seats alongside the long sides of the box. In the latest, expanded incarnation, the theater’s existing mezzanine and balcony have become “orchestra” seats, and I bought front row of mezzanine seats to witness the shenanigans.

Arielle Jacobs as Imelda Marcos, left, and Jose Llana as Ferdinand Marcos, in “Here Lies Love.”

And imagine, Arielle Jacobs as Imelda, sang a verse of her signature ballad, “Why Don’t You Love Me,” right in front of me – close enough to see her zippered or velcro’d white gown – since there’s rotating and rambling action everywhere in the show, up in the balcony, in a walkway just in front of the mezzanine, way back in the bowels of the shoe box stage, or dancing on one of the elevated and moving stages on the main floor.

But I have a major gripe about a serious omission. The original production included vintage black-and-white newsreel images of Imelda and Ferdinand, who were exiled from the P.I. and sought refuge in Honolulu, where Marcos died and whose body was in a refrigerated fixture at Valley of the Temples cemetery in Kaneohe.

Locals remember, trust me.

Arielle Jacobs (Imelda), in the “shoe box” pit amid roving audience members.

The Marcoses had rented a home on Kalanianaole Hwy. between Aina Haina and Niu Valley, and Imelda often made outings to local hangouts, including the Noodle Shop at the Waikiki Sand Villa Hotel, where comedian Frank DeLima earlier performed in creative costume with toaster-cover sleeves and trademark wigs to mimic Imelda.  Imagine seeing her watch a comedic caricature of herself! (She had a sense of humor, and loved it!)

That said, “Here Lies Love” mentions the couple’s political problems. But makes no mention of their exiled life in Hawaii, much less her shoe collection – she was proud of her footwear –and these omissions fail to acknowledge how they loved the islands and, to some degree, vice versa with the residents.

Carlos Ricamoe, in white, as the politicking Ninoy Aquino.

The disregard of the Hawaii phase of their post-Philippines days is a misfortune and peculiar snub of this small wedge of the couple’s history.

That said, “Here Lies Love” is a lavish curiosity, with Arielle Jacobs (new to the Imelda role) and Jose Llana as Ferdinand (reprising his role). The ensemble of two-dozen proud Phil-Ams are led by a DJ (Moses Villaroma), who spins discs, announces, dances and instructs certain stage movements.

Jose Llano (Ferdinand) dances with Arielle Jacobs (Imelda), in “Here Is Love.”

The aforementioned Lea Salonga earlier made a few appearances in the cast, playing Aurora Aquino (normally played by Reanne Acasio, mother of Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino), and has returned to perform “Just Ask the Flowers,” late in the show, through Aug. 13. Following her run, producers will continue to book talent from the Philippines, taking a cue from “Chicago” (which continues to book talent for limited runs),
a measure that could pique interest of Philippines natives to attend.

Lea Salonga (as Aurora Aquino), in her limited run in “Here Is Love.”

On several occasions during the show, spectators are invited to sing and dance from their seats, or if they are standees on the main floor, they become part of the immersive disco moments.

Speaking of disco: the beat’s the thing, but so are the ever-changing light designs by Justin Townsend, who keeps up with the tempos and thus creates light shows, hither and yon.

Since most theaters allow covered drinks, folks can buy and sip drinks during the show. No cover, or two-drink minimum.

When the Marcoses visited New York, Imelda loved Studio 54 like Broadway regulars. The play does not ignore their lavish, privileged lifestyles, when the commoners faced hardship. …

‘Here Lies Love’

“Here Lies Love” is a musical originally staged and produced by the Public Theatre, based on a concept by David Byrne (music and lyrics), Fatboy Slim (music), Tom Gandey and Jose Luis Pardo (additional music), directed and developed by Alex Timbers and choreographed  by Annie-B Parson; inspired by the life and times of Imelda and Ferdinand Marcos, the notorious political figures of the Philippines

Playing at the Broadway Theatre on Broadway

And that’s Show Biz. …

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