Also see Sharon's review of The Blacks: A Clown Show
In some ways, Imelda Marcos’s story is so much larger than life, it requires very few changes to make it suitable for the theatre. Indeed, it is sometimes difficult to tell when Imelda is being true to life, and when it is being tongue-in-cheek. Imelda’s 3000 pairs of shoes - that’s true. Imelda coining the term “Imeldific” - also true. Imelda asking, after a failed attempt on her life, whether the assassin could have tied a ribbon on the knife to pretty it up - true again. From all of this nonsensical reality, it is a very small step to portray Imelda sitting in a chair shaped like a huge shoe, or singing about imposing “Martial Law ... with a Smile.”
On the other hand, the show’s book (by Sachi Oyama) adds a teenage romance between Imelda and Benigno Aquino - an entanglement to which this reviewer has found no reference in historical fact. If it is not, in fact, true, it’s a little too tidy of a plot point to have Imelda lose her boyfriend to the same woman to whom she will subsequently lose political power.
Imelda is at its best when relying on traditional Filipino myths or storytelling styles. Ferdinand Marcos is introduced in a number called “Maharlika,” which nicely encapsulates both Marcos’s past successes and his attempt to create himself as a cultural icon tied to Filipino traditions and values. This sort of number is ultimately much more memorable than “Forever Part of You,” Imelda’s answer to “Don’t Cry for Me, Argentina.” While “Forever Part of You” is a perfectly serviceable ballad, the mere fact that it is so obviously Imelda’s love song to her country brings the Evita comparison clearly to mind, and “Forever Part of You” just can’t compete. The numbers that incorporate Tagalog words and tribal-sounding rhythms are much more successful, because they are something more than just theatrical pop ballads.
Liza Del Mundo is a solid Imelda, conveying both Imelda’s youthful drive for approval and the condescending adult who approaches everything as though she has an entitlement to be queen of the world. The difference is most clear between “The Education of Imelda,” a tune in which Marcos 'Henry Higginses' an innocent Imelda into being a perfect political wife and “Imeldific,” in which a wealthy and powerful Imelda treats New York as a giant buffet set up for her pleasure. Vocally, Del Mundo is outshone by Myra Cris Ocenar, who gives Corazon Aquino what is probably the richest voice in the show, and nails her one ballad, “Myself, My Heart.” Also standing out vocally are Ramona DuBarry, Blythe Matsui, and Annie Katsura Rollins as the three “Muses,” who take on roles ranging from shoe museum guides to beauty contestants, while they lead us through Imelda’s story.
Production-wise, Imelda seems to be limited by East West Players’ budget, which is to say that the story and songs look to demand more. When the Muses sing about “3,000 Pairs of Shoes,” members of the cast carry out individual pairs of shoes on silver platters, but the song itself is aching for the back wall of the set to open up and show row upon row of shoes, rather than a mere projection of shoes thrown up against the wall. Similarly, “Imeldific,” the paean to overindulgence, cries out for excessiveness in costume and set design. If Imelda has a further life at a larger theatre, hopefully these flaws can be overcome. In order for it to have such a life, its writers need to concentrate more on what makes it different from Evita, and less on what makes it appear like a pale copy.
Imelda runs at East West Players through June 19, 2005. Visit www.eastwestplayers.org for more information
East West Players - Tim Dang, Producing Artistic Director - presents Imelda. Book by Sachi Oyama; Music by Nathan Wang; Lyrics by Aaron Coleman. Directed by Tim Dang. Musical Direction by Nathan Wang; Choreography by Reggie Lee. Set & Production Designer Victoria Petrovich; Costume Designer Ivy Chou; Lighting Designer Jerry M. Sonnenberg; Property Master Ken Takemoto; Sound Designer Nathan Wang; Stage Manager Robert “Bobby” Fromer; Assistant Stage Manager Anna Woo.
Photo: Michael Lamont