Review: David Byrne revisits disco in new work
This undated theater image released by The Public Theater shows Ruthie Ann Miles during a performance of "Here Lies Love," in New York. (AP Photo/The Public Theater, Joan Marcus)
NEW YORK (AP) — Given her legendary reputation for extravagance, Imelda Marcos seems a fitting subject for David Byrne's splashy new disco musical "Here Lies Love," a bright, novel production with a bold disregard for modesty and convention.
The price of admission will get you in the door, but you won't get a seat in the standing-only, dancing-encouraged audience. The Public Theater's LuEsther Hall venue, where the show opened Tuesday, has been transformed into a beaming night club with strobe lights, flat-screen displays, wall-to-wall digital projections, artificial smoke and a DJ perched high above the dance floor.
With a stage against each of the four walls, it is difficult at times to know which way to look in this head-spinning, "360-degree theatrical experience." The show's good-looking, energetic cast also performs atop a long narrow platform in the middle of the room that occasionally rotates, forcing the audience to shuffle along with it (with nervous prodding by cheerfully concerned ushers in neon attire). The occasional rotation briefly transforms the space into a kind of flashing, pulsating cement mixer.
The whole thing is a little kooky, but then so is the personality at the center of this unusual one-act, biographical portrait.
The former first lady of the Philippines makes for an unlikely leading lady and, from the perspective of the average theatergoer, an uncomfortable one. After all, it's not easy to empathize with the wife of a dictator, a woman known for her unabashed opulence.
Played with lovely elegance and depth by Ruthie Ann Miles, Imelda oozes glamour in a variety of tropical prints, sequined dresses and luxurious furs. Her persona remains deliciously larger-than-life throughout her rise and fall, as her childlike innocence is eroded by power, transforming her into something of an anti-Evita. (Instead of singing, "Don't Cry For Me, Filipinos," she pleads hopelessly with her discontented subjects in the tragically — and comically — entitled ballad "Why Don't You Love Me?")
This undated theater image released by The Public Theater shows Ruthie Ann Miles, center, during a performance of "Here Lies Love," in New York. (AP Photo/The Public Theater, Joan Marcus)
Byrne's unique historical project began as a concept album, performed in a handful of live concerts including a 2007 engagement at Carnegie Hall, before it was developed into a full blown theater piece. Much of the narrative is told from Imelda's point of view, though it is only partially sympathetic.