Sunday, August 20, 2023

Here Lies Love - Broadway

You’ve probably never seen a musical on Broadway like Here Lies Love.  With a score by David Burns (of The Talking Heads) and Fat Boy Slim, this immersive, disco-pop biography of Imelda Marcos, former first lady of the Philippines, is a wildly entertaining production.  You know you’re in for something different when you have to weave through passageways to your seats (there is a seating option and dance floor option.  I chose the former).  The interior of the Broadway Theatre has been reconfigured as a huge dance floor.  Most of the orchestra seats have been removed.  The atmosphere, with Justin Townsend’s vibrant, criss-crossing, and multi-colored lighting; M.L. Dogg and Cody Spencer’s blaring sound work; and Peter Nigrini’s pulsating video projections, is reminiscent of Studio 54 where Ms. Marcos spent many a night dancing to the disco beat. 


The 90 minute, intermission-less production, with its catchy songs and Annie-B Parson’s energetic and bustling choreography, keeps the show at a frenetic pace.  Director Alex Timbers masterfully stages the musical, utilizing every space of Scenic Designer David Korins’ refitted theater - from the moveable platforms on the dance floor, within the aisles of the mezzanine, and on the shrunken Broadway Theatre stage itself.  There is never a dull moment in Here Lies Love.  Throughout the show a DJ shouts to the audience to stand and show their stuff.  Even if you stay put in your chair, your feet can’t help but boogie.


The story begins with Imelda Marcos, a poor, country girl, whose beauty pageant win propels her to the capitol, Manila.  From there, in quick succession, she meets and marries Ferdinand Marcos who, after a stint as a State Senator, becomes President.  Their rule is harsh, riddled with corruption.  While the country suffers poverty and hardships they are spending state money on a lavish lifestyle.  The pleas of Ninoy Aquino, a critic of the Marcos regime (and former love of Imelda) play out at certain points of the show.  Eventually, President Marcos declares martial law to stamp down dissent and after the assassination of Ninoy Aquino, Imelda and Ferdinand leave a disenchanted country for exile in the United States. 


The songs by David Burns and Fat Boy Slim, encapsulated, for the most part, within surging disco rhythms, propel the story forward and add shading to the main characters.  When combined with Mr. Nigrini’s grainy newsreel footage and stark captions projected around the theater, audience members come away with an understanding  of the historical era dramatized in the show.


The all-Filipino cast is superb, led by Arielle Jacobs as Ms. Marcos.  This is a star-making role and Ms. Jacobs is up to the challenge.  She superbly moves from shy, country lass to a confident, arrogant world leader.  The actress brings a great deal of nuance to her role, providing a well-rounded character study of the former first lady.  Jose LLana’s Ferdinand Marcos, more a secondary character in the production, nonetheless, manages to imbue within his portrayal a brashness and charisma that is at times hypnotic and chilling.   Conrad Ricamora’s portrayal of Ninoy Aquino, the doomed opposition leader, is virtuous and impassioned, a fitting counterpoint to the Marcos rule.  Tony Award winner Lea Salonga, in the small role of Aurora Aquino, delivers a quietly intense performance.

Here Lies Love, dancing the night away at The Broadway Theatre.

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