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TWO VIEWS OF IMELDA
by Ed Rubin
by Glenda Frank
Imelda: A New Musical
by Ed Rubin
Jaygee Macapugay as Imelda. Photo courtesy of the production.
Imelda: A New Musical
Directed by Tim Dang
Book by Sachi Oyama
Music by Nathan Wang
Lyrics by Aaron Coleman
Choreographed by Reggie Lee
Julia Miles Theatre, 424 Wets 55th Street, NYC
Opened September 22, closes October, 18, 2009.
Reviewed by Edward Rubin, Saturday, October 3
Sooner or later the flamboyant lives of powerful women married to powerful world leaders find their lives exhumed from the dustbins of history and dropped onto the theatrical stage. Most often these productions, be they a straight play like Jackie, An American Life, or a Broadway musical like Evita, are sketches, not unlike an obituary that highlights the major events of celebrities lives. Following in these same footsteps, Imelda, A New Musical, produced by Pan Asian Repertory Theatre which is celebrating their 33rd season, is currently holding court at the Julia Miles Theatre. I wish the very best for this musical on a shoestring, for despite the Imelda's lighter than light book and its confusedly staged opening number – hopefully this will be remedied to match the play's stellar closing number -- the acting and singing of its four leads, the music of Nathan Wang, the simple lyrics of Aaron Coleman, and oh so carefully chosen colorful costumes of Ivy Chou, is simply captivating.
Though I never got into the politics of Imelda, or for that matter made an in depth study of Ferdinand Marcos the 10th President of the Philippines who for some twenty years (1965-1986), along with his beloved Imelda, ruled the country with an iron hand – both were mired in murder, mayhem, and mystery, not to mention robbing the country's coffers of a billion or so dollars, much of which was supplied by the US - I did follow the soap opera called Imelda, as did worldwide media during her highly publicized million dollar shopping sprees. When the Marcos were finally overthrown in 1986 and fled for their life to Hawaii (President Reagan guaranteed them safe passage) the world had another field day as the frantically fleeing Imelda – probably still crying about it – left behind 15 mink coats, 508 gowns, 1000 handbags, and 3,000 pairs of shoes. It was that inglorious moment, a moment that the musical makes a great deal of, that Imelda, previously referred to as "The Iron Butterfly" became for many Our Lady of the Shoes.
The play opens up with actress Jaygee Macapugay - channeling the beautifully gowned and coiffed Imelda. Besieged by a cast of taunting "shoe carrying" cast of characters supposedly representing her many victims, Imelda, believing herself misrepresented, sweeps aside her dissenters and begins to tell the story – a sanitized version no doubt – of her life as she sees it. She begins by singing Forever Part of You, a paean to the Philippines. Surrounding her throughout the play, acting as a Greek chorus, are three muses who in real life were her ever in attendance Ladies In Waiting. For much of the play Imelda is presented as an innocent, interested only in the pursuit of beauty. Little by little as she begins to capitalize on her looks her pursuit of beauty turns into the pursuit of power. In no time at all, Ferdinand Marcos, brilliantly, and I must say scarily enacted by Mel Sagrado Maghuyop, is on the scene. Believing he needs a woman of great beauty to smooth his way to the top, the ruthless and highly ambitious Marcos, playing a Henry Higgins role, slowly transforms the young and gutsy beauty into his queen and lifetime partner in crime.
At first the handsome Marcos and beautiful Imelda – the Camelot du jour couple – were looked upon as saviors of their country. The less than rich people, in particular those who made up the majority of the country, wrong-headedly as it turned out, looked to Imelda, whose background was closer to theirs than to the upper echelons who had ruled the country for years, to spread the country's wealth. Believing that the people wanted to see her beauteous self dripping in jewels - such brilliance she claimed gave them hope she said – the cultish Imelda, along with Marcos lost sight of the people. Their main interest seemed to building enormous buildings in tribute to their reign and squirreling away money in banks around the world. Soon they were pariahs in their own country. Discontent grew to the point where jails were filled with politicians who disagreed with Marcos's policies. Senator Ninoy Aquino, Marcos's most vociferous opponent – quietly illustrated by Brain Jose, is exiled to New York City. Despite threats to his life Ninoy returns to Manila to challenge Marcos for the presidency. Shot dead on his return Liz Casasola as his wife Corazon Aquino, the eventual president of the Philippines, takes to the stage singing Myself, My Heart. The Philippine people – with the newly elected Corazon as their new hope – get their revenge. As the play ends, the still unrepentant Imelda, and the entire cast sing, Like God, a rousing and triumphant finale. [Rubin]
Edward Rubin is a writer living in New York City. He is a member of the New York Drama Desk, the Outer Critics Circle and AICA (The American Section of the International Association of Art Critics). He can be reached at email@example.com@aol.com.
by Glenda Frank
"Imelda, A New Musical." Book by Sachi Oyama. Music by Nathan Wang. Lyrics by Aaron Coleman. Directed by Tim Dang.
Produced by Pan Asian Repertory Theatre at the Julia Miles Theatre,
424 W. 55th St., NYC. Sept. 22- Oct. 18, 2009.
Performances are Tues.- Sat., 7:30; Sun, 3 PM. Tickets $25-55.
Tickets: 212-239-6200, www.telecharge.com or www.panasianrep.org
Imelda Marcos was a larger-than-life figure, even to herself– so it's fitting that her image in "Imelda, A New Musical" dominates the stage. This inspired and beautifully realized production, which is enjoying its East Coast premiere at the Julia Miles Theatre, sidesteps both adulation and scorn, albeit with a bow to both, and is completely engrossing as narrative and history lesson. Corazon and Benigno (Ninoy) Aquino have their say, but all eyes remain on Imelda, the Steel Butterfly. The book by Sachi Oyama, music by Nathan Wang, lyrics by Aaron Coleman, costumes by Ivy Chou, choreography by Reggie Lee, and direction by Tim Dang deserve a hatful of glittering superlatives for intelligence, liveliness, wit, innovation and spectacle.
Imelda (Jaygee Macapugay) at the height of her popularity opens the musical, wearing a lovely evening dress – her signature style in office – with a black umbrella overhead to shield her from the sun. The other Filipinos in the musical number wear everyday clothing. The contrast is surrealistic and emblematic. We hear about her gold-plated toilet bowls, the jewelry in her vault and, yes, her 3000 shoes while the people of the Philippines struggled with poverty. ("The poor sang the blues as the newsmen sang of the shoes" – go the lyrics.)
The vision is political but the impetus of the musical is always dramatic. The story begins as a biodrama: the poor, ambitious girl confesses her dreams to her friend Ninoy (Brian Jose), loses the beauty contest for Miss Manilla, then (wow!) bribes and bulldozes her way to a title invented for her, Muse of Manilla. Enter Prince Charming through projected newspaper headlines about the return of the boyishly handsome war hero Ferdinand Marcos (Mel Sagrado Maghuyop). We witness his politically calculated proposal to the hesitant girl ("The rooster must choose a perfect hen") and read more headlines about opposition leaders who vanished. A working-class family discusses their love for Imelda ("She knows what it is to be poor so she can help us"). As the newly weds climb the political ladder, foreign dignitaries and Hollywood celebrities arrive, legitimizing the reign – either in the form of characters or projected newspaper headlines. Imelda looses her "Blue Ladies," women who distribute cash and clothing to the poor. She builds a cultural center inspired by Lincoln Center in New York. But as her gowns grow increasingly elegant, the people grow more discontent; Marcos suspends habeas corpus ("Martial Law . . . with a Smile"; and Imelda retreats to her fantasy world, where the people expect her to maintain a royal lifestyle.
The eighteen musical numbers highlight the emotional arcs while moving this compelling story along its trajectory. Costumes, choreography and music meld the traditional with the modern, so that the Philippine culture and people become a hidden (and exotic) force. The tide turns. Imelda is stabbed by a lone assassin, her philandering husband, realizing his vulnerability, returns to her side, and Ninoy Aquino resolves to challenge Marcos and change the government. Aquino is a sad figure. We visit him in jail at the end of his seventh year In a tender scene, he gives his dedicated wife, who will succeed Marcos as president, a hand-carved gift, all he can offer her. Corazon Aquino is played as a tidy plain Jane who vanishes beside Imelda's sequins, but when her husband rejects the temptations of a luxurious Paris exile for another run at the presidency and is assassinated at the airport, Corazon Aquino ("Here am I alone") lifts his banner, and we are one with the people chanting for change.
It takes a special musical to so involve an audience in the moments of familiar history. "Imelda" allows us to embrace both our passion for celebrity and our need for political and economic reform – all the while entertaining us with a masterful collaboration of talent and very fine performances. [GF]
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