Critics rave over Imelda musical in New York

Posted at 04/24/2013 3:03 PM | Updated as of 04/24/2013 4:43 PM

MANILA, Philippines – Theater critics are raving over a new off-Broadway musical on the life of former first lady Imelda Marcos, which opened in New York on Tuesday.

“Here Lies Love,” which began as a concept album made in collaboration between composer and Talking Heads leader David Byrne and Fatboy Slim, is being mounted by The Public Theater at LuEsther Hall. It stars an all-Asian cast, with Filipino-American actor Jose Llana as Ferdinand Marcos and Imelda Marcos as Korean-American actress Ruthie Ann Miles.

The 90-minute musical focuses on key events in the life of the former first lady, including her 1949 win in a Tacloban beauty pageant, the declaration of martial law, the assassination of Aquino and the Marcoses' exile to Hawaii.

“‘Here Lies Love,’ which was recently extended through June 2, is a welcome and wholly singular vision of a monumental episode in Filipino history,” wrote Peter Santilli of The Associated Press.

The musical’s creators took their cue from Imelda Marcos’ fondness of disco dancing, and designed the show in a club with the audience dancing throughout the performance – a staging decision that earned wide praise from critics, who were also wowed by the thumping score.

“Members of the show’s ensemble will instruct you in the Manila pop-style steps. You may also find yourself on television, simulcast on the walls, during political rallies. You’ll be asked to vote for Marcos, too, natch. And as folks tend to do when caught up in the fever of a crowd, you’ll probably find yourself smiling and nodding assent,” the New York Times’ theater critic Ben Brantley wrote in his review.

“‘Here Lies Love’ is rich with candied melodies that stick to the inner ear and beats that act like cattle prods. This is music created to sweep you into unthinking acquiescence, as history is said to do,” he added.

“The show's good-looking, energetic cast ...performs atop a long narrow platform in the middle of the room that occasionally rotates, forcing the audience to shuffle along with it (with nervous prodding by cheerfully concerned ushers in neon attire),” The AP said. “The whole thing is a little kooky, but then so is the personality at the center of this unusual one-act, biographical portrait.”

“The visceral audience experience does effective double-duty; it gives the feeling of being on a crowded dance floor, or alternately caught in a throng of revelers or protestors on the streets of Manila,” The Hollywood Reporter’s David Rooney wrote in his review.

“What’s most amazing is that despite the high-concept, broad-strokes presentation, little to no prior knowledge of the Marcos regime is required to get a full impression of the protagonist’s story,” he said.

Critics also praised Miles’ “sweet” portrayal of Imelda Marcos.

“Played with lovely elegance and depth by Ruthie Ann Miles, Imelda oozes glamour in a variety of tropical prints, sequined dresses and luxurious furs. Her persona remains deliciously larger-than-life throughout her rise and fall, as her childlike innocence is eroded by power, transforming her into something of an anti-Evita. (Instead of singing, ‘Don't Cry For Me, Filipinos,’ she pleads hopelessly with her discontented subjects in the tragically — and comically — entitled ballad ‘Why Don't You Love Me?’),” The AP said.

“The disarming Miles brings such unexpected emotional depths to the main role that it’s easy to buy the central character’s inherent contradictions, with Llana …also making vivid impressions as the secondary lead,” The Hollywood Reporter said in its review.