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Review - Here Lies Love

The only thing that'll keep you from dancing in aisles at The Public Theater's production of the enormously fun and exhilarating new musical, Here Lies Love, is the fact that there are no aisles. In fact, there are no seats, save for a handful up in the balcony for this strictly standing room only show.

Director Alex Timbers, who turned the presidency of Andrew Jackson into an emo rock concert and the teachings of L. Ron Hubbard into a children's holiday pageant, now stages the story of the political and romantic rise and fall of Ferdinand Marcos and his and his partner in corruption Imelda (who I'm told loved the nightlife and often got to boogie) as a night at a Filipino dance club, where disco, techno and house music are accompanied by flashing lights and the seeds of revolution.

Those who are immediately turned off by the thought of audience participation theatre need not fear. This is not one of those shows that breaks the fourth wall to single out and/or embarrass customers, but depictions of the masses are intrinsic to the storytelling and it's easy (and fun) to get caught up in the mob mentality; particularly when company members lead the audience in line dancing or an angry protest chant of, "Rise up!"

Since the invention of karaoke is credited to Filipino Roberto del Rosarioa, the concept has the cast singing to recorded tracks of the score by David Byrne (lyrics and music) and Fatboy Slim (music), often using hand-held microphones. There's almost no dialogue; not even recitative. Just a series of hard-thumping dance tunes that, for authenticity's sake, are written in simple pop vernacular with not a lot of attention to perfect rhyming. But Byrnes' lyrics, many of them adapted from real life speeches and interviews, are heavily detailed in storytelling and projections explaining who the characters are and the context of each song makes the plot easy, and quite exciting, to follow.

As Imelda, the terrific Ruthie Ann Miles starts sweetly as a simple country girl who moves to the big city after winning a beauty contest and eventually becomes a ruthless diva of a first lady, spending extravagant amounts of money on unnecessary government projects while her people are starving. (Curiously, there's no mention of her infamously large shoe collection.) As Ferdinand Marcos, the handsome Jose Llana displays a devilish charm as he seduces both the lady and the country. An impassioned Conrad Ricamora plays Ninoy Aquino, Imelda's first boyfriend who later becomes a leader in exposing the corruption of the Marcos administration. More poignant moments are handled by the beautifully singing Melody Butiu, as Imelda's childhood friend, Estrella.

Scenes are played out on various moveable platforms which stagehands reconfigure frequently during the non-stop proceedings while assistants in hot pink jumpsuits gently guide audience members out of the way. Choreographer Annie-B Parson's tireless ensemble dances up a whirlwind of disco moves as Timbers paints funny and surprisingly touching and dramatic moments.

It may sound like a campy gimmick, but Here Lies Love is seriously good musical theatre. All that's missing are overpriced drinks and the drunken idiots hitting on you.

Photos by Joan Marcus: Top: Ruthie Ann Miles and Company; Bottom: Jose Llana.

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From This Author Michael Dale