Volume 79, Number 16 | September 23 - 29, 2009
West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since 1933


Theater

IMELDA: A NEW MUSICAL
Book by Sachi Oyama; Music by Nathan Wang; Lyrics by Aaron Coleman; Choreography by Reggie Lee
Directed by Tim Dang
A Pan Asian Repertory Theatre (Tisa Chang) presentation in association with East West Players (www.panasianrep.org)
Through October 18
At the Julia Miles Theater, 424 West 55th Street (9th/10th Aves.)
212-239-6200, or www.telecharge.com

Photo by Carol Rosegg

Jaygee Macapugay as Imelda Marcos with the Three Muses (L-R): Angelica-Lee Aspiras, Sacha Iskra and Jonelle Margallo

Pan Asian Rep rips, reveals Marcos

Salty commentary, spoken and sung, gives ‘Imelda’ satirical sting

By Jerry Tallmer

When the people of People Power — the masses of ordinary Filipinos who had finally had enough of the Marcos tyranny and his martial law — broke into the grandiose Malacañang Palace that President Ferdinand and First Lady Imelda Marcos had finally, hastily evacuated, what soon came to light was a beyond-belief treasure trove of Imelda’s finery.

Heading the count, according to many reports: 15 mink coats, 500 gowns, 1,000 handbags, 3,000 pairs of shoes. Yes, three thousand.

Imelda said it was all for the people’s good; to set an example, show them how they should want to live — and want their leaders to live.

“She certainly was controversial,” says Tisa Chang. “I think controversial figures are far more interesting than non-controversial ones, don’t you?”

Tisa Chang, Artistic Producing Director of the Pan Asian Repertory that she founded at La MaMa 32 years ago, has been the prime mover of bringing to New York the East West Players Los-Angeles-spawned production of “Imelda.”

Broadway had its “Evita.” Off-Broadway has its “Imelda.”

It has been “refined,” trimmed down from its West Coast launch, says Ms. Chang, and so has its cast, from 15 or 16 actor-singer-dancers to just a dozen. Trimmed down or not, it spells out — and I do mean spells out — every last detail in the up-from-poverty life and times of the Iron Butterfly (or Steel Butterfly; take your pick) who was once ranked among the most powerful women of her, or any, era.

“I thought it timely to bring to bring this work to New York,” says Tisa Chang. “First, because Imelda Marcos” — born July 2, 1929 — “has just reached her 80th birthday, over there in Manila, and then because Corazon Aquino died a month ago [on August 1] — the Corazon who was propelled by, yes, People Power to win the presidency over the Ferdinand Marcos who very probably had had her husband, democracy-minded candidate Nimoy Aquino, assassinated right before election day.

“Imelda” the musical indeed starts with Imelda Romuelduz of Leyte Island, in her early 20s, having been named “Miss Muse of Manila” in consolation for losing a Miss Manila beauty contest, pouring out her woes and dreams (someday…an Oscar!) to none other than the young journalist Nimoy Aquino she takes to be her boyfriend.

“I’m not your boyfriend,” he insists, but she won’t listen. The end of the story is in the cards (but not given away) at the beginning of the story.

We follow Imelda step by step up the ladder, including her training in speech, posture, and everything else by — no, not Henry Higgins, but tough, swaggering, sarcastic, ambitious Ferdinand E. Marcos, a bully with a heart of yellow.

Matter of fact, you can find the very word “heart” sprinkled like powdered sugar through and through “Imelda” the musical — an overweening sentimentality which was not trimmed out. What couldn’t be trimmed because it’s just there is that “corazon” happens to be Spanish for “heart.”

Nimoy Aquino on Imelda:

If I had raised the butterfly,
reminded her
she was a caterpillar once;
if I had shaped her blazing wings,
how she would fly
without her ostentatious fronts,
and not kiss up to spiders…

Marcos on Imelda:

I raised the butterfly,
gave her the grace
to dazzle in her royal flight.
I shaped her blazing wings
and now the world
is blinded by the sight,
despite the criticism…

If that sort of salty commentary is sung or spoken throughout the show, at climax things can’t help collapsing back into “heart”-iness via a many-stanza’d “Myself, My Heart” aria given the Corazon whose Nimoy has been shot to death as he stepped from the plane at Manila Airport, returning from exile in New York — the city worshipped by old acquaintance Imelda for its shoe stores, its fur stores, its jewelry stores, its real estate, its excitement…“and the world’s best pizza.”

“Every precious pearl that I buy / Every pair of shoes that I try / Is a gift of my respect for the poor” — so goes the corollary of Imelda’s love affair with New York.

“I don’t like pizza,” snaps Nimoy.

The Imelda of “Imelda” is actress Jaygee Macapugay, the Marcos is Mel Sagrado Maghuyop, the Corazon is Liz Casasola, the Nimoy is Brian Jose. All twelve members of the cast are Filipino-American, as is choreographer Reggie Lee.

If Imelda was once the Muse of Manilla, there are three Muses scattered through the show like a Greek chorus. They are based on the onetime Blue Ladies — upper-class females who surrounded and supported the real Imelda.

(Was real Imelda the real Imelda? That is another question, partly addressed by this piece of theater).

Imelda and Marcos came to full power in 1965, when he, a congressman from Ilocos Norte (in the sticks) was elected president.of the Philippines.

“Ironically,” says Tisa Chang, “I was in Manila in the ’60s, for the filming of ‘Ambush Bay,’ a World War II movie [released 1966, starring Hugh O/Brian and Robert Mitchum], in which I played a Japanese-American spy who helps the Americans to accomplish their mission. It ends with General MacArthur’s ‘I shall return’ speech.”

It was after that fling at cinema that she came back to the New York City where she’d been born, to work with a Chinese theater group at Ellen Stewart’s La MaMA E.T.C. (Experimental Theater Club), from which all things have flowed, then as even now.

Tisa Chang likes to quote a wisecrack recently perpetrated by “Imelda” director Tim Dang:

“We hope it has legs to go with the shoes.”

Just by the way, Ms.. Chang, how many pairs of shoes do you have at home?

“You mean in my closet?”  Pause. “Forty.” Pause. “Many of which are in the show.”

You could heel me.

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