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November 3, 2023
History You Can Dance To
Here Lies Love
Photo by Billy Bustamante, Matthew Murphy and Evan Zimmerman

When I first saw “Here Lies Love” in 2013 at the Public Theater, I was one of several people who stood on the theater floor and moved around, viewing the show and walking around as the ushers directed us.

At the revival at the Broadway Theatre, I chose to be seated. The audience members who remained on their feet for the entire 90 minutes became part of the show and played their parts - sometimes cheering, applauding, shaking hands, and even posing with the ‘candidates’ on TV.

In the spirit of “Evita" and even “Hamilton,” “Here Lies Love” is a Broadway musical telling of history. The show recounts the tumultuous history of the Philippines. Imelda, a beauty pageant winner marries Ferdinand Marcos, who ultimately becomes the ruler of the country. After a bombing, which is suggested was planned by Marcos himself, he imposed martial law. Thousands were killed, and imprisoned, including Cory Aquino, a political opponent. Marcos had absolute control, silencing the free press, and dissolving Congress and the Supreme Court. His opponents were dealt with severely, and 70,000 were jailed, 35,000 were tortured and 3,200 were killed.

As in “Evita,” the main character has humble beginnings, and, through her husband, she rises up to power and wealth. The musical depicts Imelda as depressed and on medication, yet it’s hard to feel compassion for her. She enjoys the wealth her position affords her, ‘forgetting’ her humble beginnings and the people who loved her. Many of us recall a bit of trivia about Imelda spending much of the State’s money on her personal art, jewelry and clothing. In fact, she amassed 3,000 pairs of shoes, but the musical does well to ignore that. In fact, the only mention of footwear is a brief line when she sings of her poverty and that, as a girl, she often had no shoes.

Imelda now finds herself wealthy, surrounded by famous people and, for a while, adored by the people. The audience is constantly reminded that these events and characters are real, and while the actors perform, actual photos of the pair are flashed around the theater. When the news is released about Ferdinand’s mistress, the actual recording that she made is played as well.

I can’t recall any of the music from the original but this time I did leave the theater humming the title song (music by Fatboy Slim and concept, music & lyrics by David Byrne.) “Here Lies Love” derives its title from a comment supposedly made by Imelda during a visit to her husband Ferdinand Marcos' embalmed body. She noted that she would like the phrase "Here Lies Love" to be inscribed on her tombstone.

Arielle Jacobs (“Aladdin”) is a wonderful Imelda, touching and affecting. A beautiful performer, she sings with passion and warmth. Jose Llana reprises his role as Ferdinand Marcos, Imelda's husband and 10th president of the Philippines who ruled as dictator for 20 years. Llana is convincing enough to make me dislike his character. Also reprising his role in the original is the earnest, sincere Conrad Ricamora as Ninoy Aquino, a Philippine senator who was critical of the Marcos family during its regime. This led to his imprisonment and eventual assassination. Aquino’s death led to The People Power Revolution which resulted in the removal of Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos from power.

This is truly participatory theater but only for the energetic. To get the most out of that experience, a viewer needs to be ready to dance and move about and follow the theater ushers' instructions. Like airport marshallers, they are easily recognizable. This group is garbed in pink jumpsuits and wave flashlights. The performers move around as well and sometimes even join the audience upstairs, bringing all of us closer to the action.

The show is directed by Alex Timbers who with “Moulin Rouge” has demonstrated his experience with spectacle and unique staging. The cast is fine, and several cast members play multiple roles. Here “Lies Love” is unique in that it boasts an entire Filipino cast. The innovative stage design is by David Korins and colorful costumes are by Clint Ramos. The show reminds us that it is based on history when Jacobs is dressed as Imelda on stage while the photo of Imelda wearing the original dress is flashed on the screens.

Here Lies Love'' works as a spectacle and participatory theater. It is based on actual recent history. I wouldn’t swear that many in the audience “learned” much, but, then again, they weren’t there to learn. They were there to dance and have a good time and they did

Broadway Theatre
1681 Broadway
New York, NY

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Written by: Elyse Trevers
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