‘Here Lies Love’ provides full-time jobs to FilAm actors (Part 2)

Jaygee Macapugay as Imelda Marcos: From swing to lead actress

Jaygee Macapugay as Imelda Marcos: From swing to lead

This latest Investigative Reporting Project chronicles important milestones in Filipino American theater history in New York. The author, Renee Barabad Floresca, is an actor, director, educator and writer whose latest production, “Undressing the Fragments,” is playing Oct. 24th to 26th at Wow Café Theatre at the Lower East Side between Bowery and 2nd Avenue. — Editor.

By Renee Barabad Floresca

Upon entrance to the Public Theatre, there’s a live DJ playing his set, a bar where you get your drinks, and a moveable stage that is literally on a disco dance floor. At the center of the dance floor is a stage, with two smaller platforms, one projecting a strobe light infused with the image of Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos’s family.

How can we not remember the Marcos regime, known for declaring Martial Law and plundering the Philippine economy. “Here Lies Love” is about the rise of Imelda Marcos from a poor girl from the province to become one of the most powerful women and also one of the most detested because of her disgustingly lavish lifestyle. The production has a cast of about 17 to 19 actors, of which 14 are Filipinos, according to producer Jhett Tolentino.

The last time something like this has occurred on Broadway was in the early 1990s when “Miss Saigon,” led by the excellent actress Lea Salonga, had a deluge of FilAm casting, including the twin boys who alternated as her young son. Many Filipino and Asian actors played bar girls, the Vietnamese soldiers and the chorus. Salonga dominated as Kim, running away with the Tony Award for Best Actress.

Lea Salonga and Brian Baldomero in 'Miss Saigon'

Lea Salonga and Brian Baldomero in ‘Miss Saigon’

“Here Lies Love” is composed of the cream of the crop in the Filipino performance artist community and each can hold their notes, prance around the many dangerously mobile stages, balance in a choreographed routine while going through several insanely timed costume, character and scene changes.

Jaygee Macapugay, the talented swing of the controversial rock musical, “Here Lies Love,” played Imelda the night I attended. She is one of the many hardworking Filipinas in the show. Her early career began when she decided to follow her passion rather than continue the practical advertising path she had studied for at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Although she wanted to perform, she didn’t know the path, as no one in her family was involved in the business. On her day off at her advertising position, she decided to audition for Disney. Two weeks after, they asked her to move to Orlando, Florida and that’s exactly what she did.

When asked about the challenges of performing in “Here Lies Love,” Macapugay said, “The moving platforms are tough. Once the show starts, it does not stop for 90 minutes.”

This star’s spirit is encouraging and radiates a tremendous will to achieve a dream. Macapugay auditioned for the show five times before she landed a role. She said to herself, she would do anything to be on the cast. She warned me to be careful of what I wish for because it will be given, and “God will not give you anything you can’t handle.”

The fifth audition was a charm. She said, “He gave me the swing. I cover Imelda and six other women. The hardest part for me is never knowing when I’m gonna go on. I can go on in a moment’s notice.” (As of this week, Macapugay will be the lead actress as Imelda up until the show’s closing date of January 3, 2015).

“Every single day I come to work I’m so thankful I get to have this as my full-time job, we are getting paid to be able to live off of it, and who can say that? And, at least for the last six months, I’ve been employed, I’m getting my actor’s equity insurance, I’m paying my rent and I’m doing a show that’s amazing and I get to work with the very best people who have been at the top of their game,” Macapugay said in an interview for this report.

“Here Lies Love” is an opportunity for Filipino artists to get a chance to live a sustainable life as an artist, an almost impossible dream for a person of color in America. At the same time, I dare us all to be critical about the content, any content—music, lifestyle, TV shows and film.

Some FilAms have argued that its non-Filipino creators, David Byrne and Fatboy Slim, are profiting from a story that is not theirs to tell. Someone made a comment that the show is “David Byrne’s construction of whatever he thinks Filipinos are like. [In his research] he mostly spoke to friends of Imelda and said he didn’t want to criticize her; he wanted to be neutral. ”

Another comment I’ve heard is how the show “humanizes the Marcoses. And as a Filipino from the Philippines—it’s something I’m tired of.”

“Here Lies Love” is one of the most unique, surprising and entertaining theatrical productions I have ever been to. The experiential journey you go through is organized intentionally, and folded into every crevice of the experience is a new story, dance or life to be born. Personally, the musical score and choreography was too culturally non-Filipino for my taste and performance background, but that doesn’t disregard the caliber of talent I was able to witness. Overall, the experience was innovative. I travelled in every inch of the room with the cast of the show, while cast members grabbed my hand and did the “Tita” dance move with me, as Macapugay called it. Only an all-Filipino cast could pull off the interactivity of the show.

“Once an audience member comes to see the show for themselves, they’ll be able to generate their own opinion,” Macapugay said. Ticket prices range from $99, $119 and $129, and with prices that steep, working-class FilAms can’t even afford to see the show. However, there are rush tickets for $40, which is the line I was definitely waiting in when I attended.

HLL's mostly-Filipino cast

HLL’s mostly-Filipino cast

NEXT: The road ahead for FilAm theater artists

Part 1: The first wave of Asian American actors were Filipinos

The FilAm’s Investigative Reporting Project is made possible through the generous support of our readers and contributors including the following:
Consuelo Almonte
Melissa Alviar
Bessie Badilla
Sheila Coronel
Joyce and Arman David
Menchu de Luna Sanchez
Kathleen Dijamco
Jen Furer
Marietta Geraldino
Dennis Josue
Lito Katigbak
Rich Kiamco
Monica Lunot-Kuker
Michael Nierva
Lisa Nohs
Cecilia Ochoa
Rene & Veana Pastor
John Rudolph
Roberto Villanueva
2 anonymous donors


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  2. […] Part 2: Here Lies Love’ provides full-time jobs to FilAm actors […]

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