Interview: Theatre Life with Don Michael H. Mendoza

DC's local hero on the importance of his current Broadway producing project Here Lies Love.

By: Nov. 14, 2023
Interview: Theatre Life with Don Michael H. Mendoza
Don Michael H. Mendoza

Today’s subject Don Michael H. Mendoza is a local artist now living his theatre life as one of the Co-Producers of the immersive Broadway musical Here Lies Love. The show is slated to close on November 26th at the Broadway Theatre in New York and to be perfectly honest, it’s a shame that it is. More about that in a bit.

Don Michael or “DonMike” if you really know him well, is one of the founders of LA-TI-DO which he formed with DC poet extraordinaire Regie Cabico to showcase all things performing arts in a weekly presentation. Monday nights became an event and LA-TI-DO was the place to be. One week it could be all musical theatre, the next week it could be a mix of that plus spoken word and more. La-TI-DO Productions is now a country wide thing with editions in Pittsburgh (DonMike’s hometown), Las Vegas and more.

He holds a B.A. in Journalism and Musical Theatre from American University.

Usually, this column gives an overview of the artist, but today’s edition is meant to help you understand why musicals like Here Lies Love definitely should have a place on Broadway and why this local hero is so passionate about this project. The show tells an interesting story and features a killer cast of performers. The immersive nature of the production puts you inside a disco for 90 minutes as the story of Imelda and Ferdinand Marcos unfolds literally all around you.

MAKE SOME NOISE!!  and please consider hoping an Amtrak or Megabus or whatever form of transportation suits you and grab some tickets to Here Lies Love before it goes away prematurely on November 26th.

Don Michael H. Mendoza is living his theatre life to the fullest as a Filipino artist. If people like him are to continue to make their living in the arts, we as an audience, regardless of ethnicity, need to support their work. Shows with a helicopter as their focal point should not be the only Filipino representation you see on Broadway. If Here Lies Love which is a truly original work in concept and overall story telling can’t find an audience, then we are destined to just keep seeing more revivals. As good as they are, do we really need another production of Cabaret or Guys and Dolls……?

How did you get involved with Here Lies Love as one of its Co-Producers?

I got involved via my producing partner Lora Nicolas Olaes who was in the first workshop in 2011. She knew Clint Ramos, one of our five Lead Producers, and she connected me to him knowing I wanted to get involved. A week later, Clint and I had a phone call where we got to know each other, and he welcomed me into our historic Filipino/Filipino American bi-national production team.

For those that are not familiar with what a Co-Producer’s job is, can you please tell us about what that role entails?

Traditionally, a Co-Producer is solely responsible to raising a certain amount of money towards the total capitalization of the show and then that’s it, see you at Opening Night and you get a profit share when the show recoups its costs. However, in this production, we were granted an unprecedented amount of access, influence, and input because the leads - Clint, Jose Antonio Vargas, Diana DiMenna, Hal Luftig, Kevin Connor, and Patrick Catullo - wanted to mentor our co-hort to pave the way to opening the door to a whole new set of Broadway producers for those who would want to stay involved after Here Lies Love.

Interview: Theatre Life with Don Michael H. Mendoza
L-R Jose Llana, Arielle Jacobs and Conrad Ricamora in Here Lies Love.
Photo by Billy Bustamante.

Here Lies Love is the first Broadway musical where the producing and design teams are majority Filipino. Why is this such an important step for a Broadway musical?

It boils down to one word: representation. We now are something young children and students looking to get into the theatre industry can look up and towards for mentorship and leadership in a way that we did not have for ourselves when we first came on the scene. To paraphrase my fellow Co-Producer Georgina Pazcoguin, the first prima ballerina of the New York City Ballet - we were all “onlys” in our respective bubbles, and this brought us all together, and now we can share our collective knowledge and experiences to mentor and shepherd the next generation as Clint and Jose did for us as fellow Filipinos.

Interview: Theatre Life with Don Michael H. Mendoza
Here Lies Love as seen from floor level.
Photo by Billy Bustamante.

Here Lies Love is unique for many reasons including the entire orchestra level being turned into a dance floor. Some audience members might be turned off by the prospect of having to stand the entire show so can you please talk about the options people have in the way they are able to view Here Lies Love?

They don’t have to be on the dance floor to get the same immersive experience that those audience members get. They can also choose to have a seat in one of three sections: VIP booth, side-gallery, and the mezzanine level. The show happens all around the theatre, so it’s not a requirement to be with the crowds on the dance floor to be part of the fun if you have strong personal boundaries or are unable to stand.

Here Lies Love is at a point where it might have to close prematurely. What are some of the factors that go into making this kind of a decision?

There are so many aspects that go into a closing decision, but mainly it lies in the weekly ticket sales numbers and whether we cover our operating costs on a weekly basis or if we fall below the needed minimum. While our show is wildly successful socially, financially, the fall slump that all of Broadway goes through in the early fall really hit us hard, which is no one’s fault outside of just the pattern of the market and those who are in town to purchase the tickets.

There is a piece in another publication that lumped all shows that have Asian American/Filipinos in them together.  The writer questions whether or not shows that feature and or are about them will ever be successful on Broadway. Why do think Here Lies Love succeeds in telling the story of Imelda and Ferdinand Marcos and promoting Asian American/Filipino artists?

There are a million-and-one reasons why Here Lies Love isn’t just “another Asian story” as that article decided to generalize - that came from a fellow Asian American writer, which makes it extra disappointing that the call came from within the house, so to speak. The main reason is that it’s just a wildly different way of telling a story! Are there any other shows at the Broadway level that put you in a fully realized disco setting and have performances come all the way up to the rear mezzanine without putting someone on a wire fly system for one stunt? It also is very direct in its drawing the connection between Filipino and American history making the relevancy of our story to the collective story of The United States one and the same. The story of Imelda and her husband isn’t some far away event in history because American Government was fully complicit and even welcomed in the perpetrators of the 21-year dictatorship after the People Power Revolution. It’s both an allegory and an actual telling of the fragility of democracy.

What would you say is the biggest lesson you have learned about producing from working on Here Lies Love?

That I don’t have to be “the only” in a room if I don’t want to be. We, fellow Filipino and AAPI producers, all exist in the ether of our industry, we just need to be moving towards and creating opportunities that bring us together, and Here Lies Love did that, which now led all of us to now carrying that mission personally and professionally moving forward.

Theatre Life logo designed by Kevin Laughon.

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