If Here Lies Love at the Broadway Theatre becomes a hit—which is quite likely—the three lead actors will certainly have developed the strongest legs on Broadway. David Korins’ scenic design forces them continually up and down portable staircases and through the bowels of the theater to appear on the balconies, then quickly down the length of the theater onto an actual proscenium stage. Whew! They don’t even seem to break a sweat.
This super-sized staging is a direct descendant of the more compact 2013 Public Theater version, which turned the fascinatingly horrible lives of Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos (Jose Llana and Arielle Jacobs) and their political irritant, Ninoy Aquino into an evening at Studio 54, an idea the show’s creators plucked from photos of Imelda Marcos dancing the night away at that notorious den of iniquity while the citizens of the Philippines suffered.
The orchestra level of the huge Broadway Theatre has been emptied of seats in order to accommodate an audience willing to stand and/or dance when directed to do so. Slowly revolving platforms constantly and gently force the dancing fools to change where they stand and wiggle.
These platforms are a large part of Korins’ contributions to the show which also include projected period films and videos taken by roving videographers blasted onto a large screen and two zipper screens along the lengths of the balconies. Peter Nigrini is credited with the projection designs which are both dazzling and informative.
The assault on the senses is completed by Justin Townsend’s imaginative lighting and M.L. Dogg & Cody Spencer’s boisterous, ear-splitting sound design.
A DJ (Moses Villarama, exuberant) starts the proceedings by exhorting the audience to feel free to dance while also following the lead of guides as the platforms moved. Those in the balconies could occasionally stand and wiggle a bit.
Marcos’ life story is through-sung in songs written by David Byrne and Fatboy Slim with contributions by Tom Gandey & José Luis Pardo.
All the salient facts are there from the impoverished childhood of Imelda Romualdez in the hinterlands of the Philippines to her marriage to Ferdinand Marcos and her rise to power.
At first we see a love-starved teen who hopes her epitaph will be “Here Lies Love.” She also craves material things. Her loyal caretaker, Estrella Cumpas (a moving Melody Butiu) sympathizes but will live to regret this relationship as will Ninoy Aquino (Conrad Ricamora, stately and earnest) who spurns the young Imelda for being incompatible with his political dreams.
The driving force of Imelda’s life, at least according to the creators of Here Lies Love, is her vendetta against Aquino. It’s certainly possible, but it’s more likely that her egotistical drive toward power and wealth was just as important. Her song, “Why Don’t You Love Me?” is her Evita-like last gasp.
The many, non-stop songs are clever and occasionally moving. The styles are mostly in the pop and electric-pop styles with some incorporating local musical riffs.
Annie-B Parson’s choreography, severely limited by the layout of the performing spaces, is simple but serviceable. A standout is a long section when the female ensemble, dressed in long blue moo-moos sway sensually.
Alex Timbers, who developed the show, is the director of Here Lies Love. That the show flows despite all the disparate elements is evidence of his skill with complex—if not overly complex—productions.
Here Lies Love unreels like an MTV music video with the emotional content lost in the technique. The real issue of this musical is that it’s impossible to feel anything for the lead characters, with the possible exception of Estrella. They are moved about the extraordinarily gimmicky set like chess pieces with Imelda checkmating everybody. Jacobs evinces the boldness of Imelda, the script limiting her ability to show any tenderness or vulnerability. Llana’s Ferdinand is written pretty much as a stolid symbol of political and emotional corruption, hardly human at all.
Towards the end of the show, the fabulous Lea Salonga appears as the grieving mother of the assassinated Ninoy Aquino. She pretty much steals the show with her presence and charisma.
Here Lies Love is superficially dazzling and entertaining. It’s not meant to be a documentary on the life of Imelda Marcos, but, as a drama the characters are totally overwhelmed by all the theatrical gimmicks.
Here Lies Love (through November 26, 2023)
Broadway Theatre, 1681 Broadway, in Manhattan
For tickets, visit http://www.herelieslovebroadway.com
Running time: one hour and 30 minutes without an intermission