Those Shoes Are Mine, Betch!

13 May
"Here Lies Love" is playing at the Public Theatre in New York City.

“Here Lies Love” is playing at the Public Theatre in New York City.

Today on my way in to work I had my iPod plugged in and on shuffle. I’m not sure exactly what’s happening with it, but it tends to play the same song rotation over and over again, but today it switched things up and surprised me with a few forgotten treasures. One of them was, admittedly, Beyoncé’s “Single Ladies,” which I may have sung full-out with shoulder-ography down I-45. A couple of times. Don’t judge me! As exciting as that was, I got even more excited when it started to play the opening bars of “Here Lies Love,” the title song from an incredible show with music and lyrics by David Byrne and Fatboy Slim that’s currently playing off-Broadway at the Public Theatre in New York City.

While I was back in New York last summer, my boss informed me that he was treating me to a night at the theatre. He had two tickets to a musical at the Public called Here Lies Love and all he knew was that it was about Imelda Marcos, the widow of Ferdinand Marcos, the former President of the Phillipines. I didn’t know anything about her other than she was famous for having several thousand pairs of shoes, so you can imagine that I was a little less than enthused about seeing a 90-minute show about her. Especially after we got to the venue to find out that it was an experiential theatre piece, which I typically hate. I enjoy the fourth wall, both as an actor and as an audience member. Set in a Filipino karaoke dance club, we entered the space to find a giant platform on wheels in the middle of the room and we were instructed to fill in the space around it. There were ushers in coveralls with fluorescent reflective tape all over them and we were told to pay attention to where they directed us to go throughout the performance. On one end of the room was a very small stage, but other than that and the big platform, there was no set to speak of.

A 1986 picture shows Imelda Marcos' shoe stash stored on shelves in the basement of the Malacanang Palace in Manila before being transferred to the National Museum.

A 1986 picture shows Imelda Marcos’ shoe stash stored on shelves in the basement of the Malacanang Palace in Manila before being transferred to the National Museum.

Suddenly the show started with a DJ up on a platform and cast members entering from all different areas of the room and the ushers started herding people and moving us around the room as smaller platforms were moved in from – well…nowhere, it seemed – and suddenly there was Ruthie Ann Miles, the actress portraying Imelda Marcos. David and I both looked at each other incredulously, not sure how she got in the center of the large platform, but he and I were both completely absorbed by the show in a matter of minutes. For the next 90 minutes or so the entire room moved and morphed and changed, with platforms and actors and lights moving and changing. The story of a young Imelda unfolded in front of, behind and beside us, only briefly giving a nod to the root of her obsession with shoes in a single lyric, but providing mounds of insight in to this woman’s past:

At least we have each other.
The neighbors pass us food.
No clothes, no bed, no jewelry.
Sometimes I had no shoes.

It occurred to me midway through the show that this show was to Imelda Marcos what Evita was to Eva Perón, which could have been a tired concept, but this show was so fresh and engaging that it stood no chance of being just another bioplay. Alex Timbers’ (Bloody, Bloody Andrew Jackson, Peter and the Starcatcher) direction focused the audience’s attention to various areas of the performance space while other, less interesting things (like set changes) were happening behind us and suddenly our attention would be directed back and there’d be a new piece of scenery that hadn’t been there a moment before. During one scene, rain drops were projected on every surface of the room – walls, ceiling, set pieces – everywhere and one by one, the cast came out with umbrellas and stood on a stage as Natalie Cortez (A Chorus Line, West Side Story) sang the haunting “Just Ask the Flowers.” We – the audience – watched from a second stage on the other side of the room and suddenly in the middle of the song, the stage on which the entire cast was standing starting slowly moving toward us, creating the feeling of a slow zoom in on the scene. It was simple, but so cinematic and breathtaking. When the number was over, the cast passed through the crowd and we were ushered forward onto the stage that had just moved toward us. On the back side of that stage were a set of steps and we were asked to sit for the remainder of the show, and when it ended, we were encouraged to stand up and join in a dance party with the cast as they sang a reprise of the title song.

David and I are pretty seasoned theatre professionals and we’ve both worked with some major talents in our time working on Broadway, but both of us were so gobsmacked by the show that we decided to stick around and meet the cast – particularly Ruthie Ann Miles – to congratulate them on such an incredible theatrical experience. We both downloaded the concept album before we’d even gotten home that night and until just a few days ago, we were anxiously awaiting the release of the Original Cast Recording of the show, but unfortunately, due to the Public Theatre’s schedule, Here Lies Love had to close just a few weeks after we’d seen it, which made us worry that a cast album wouldn’t happen. Well…it’s finally out and it’s fantastic, and I’m happy to say that the show re-opened in its original space at the Public for an open-ended run, which means more people will get to experience this strange, wonderful and surprisingly moving piece of musical theatre. Hopefully that will include you, Dear Reader.

Go see this show. In the 13 years I’ve lived in New York, Here Lies Love ranks in my personal Top 5 Best Theatrical Experiences and I encourage you to experience for yourself.

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One Response to “Those Shoes Are Mine, Betch!”

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  1. Those Shoes Are Mine, Betch! | Tinseltown Times - May 14, 2014

    […] By jasonhbratton76 […]

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