Billy Bustamante: ”Here Lies Love’ does not glorify Imelda Marcos’

Assistant Director Bustamante: ‘Bringing HLL to Broadway opens the door to (more) Filipino stories.’ Billy B. Photography

By Cristina DC Pastor

Billy Bustamante was a little boy growing up in the Washington D.C. area when the People Power revolt erupted in Manila in 1986 and chased the Marcos family, down to their grandchildren, into exile.

Today, the 42-year-old theater actor is assistant director of “Here Lies Love,” a much-anticipated Broadway musical ripped from the life of Imelda Marcos. It is the story that has put Billy and many in the all-Filipino cast to examine their feelings toward an odious chapter in Philippine history where Imelda, half of the Conjugal Dictatorship, was universally reviled for corruption, atrocities and extravagance.  

He rejected that “Here Lies Love” — a collaboration between David Byrne and Fatboy Slim — glorifies Imelda as some critics have pointed out, portraying her as a sympathetic figure.

“The show I am helping to create is a show that interrogates history,” he said when interviewed by The FilAm.  In order to hold someone accountable, he said, “you must humanize them. That’s something ‘Here Lies Love’  is able to do very uniquely.”

He believes many in the all-Filipino cast likely harbor “unresolved feelings” about this chapter in Philippine history. The election of Imelda’s son, Ferdinand Marcos Jr., to the presidency, for instance, is one of them.  

Bustamante, also a choreographer and photographer, grew up in a family that sided with People Power.

“I was a young child then, so I only had a peripheral exposure to that part of history,” he said. “This show is giving me (and every member of the company) an opportunity to reckon with that part of history and how that intersects with my Filipinoness and my Americanness.”

HLL’s all-Filipino cast: ‘Unresolved feelings.’ Photo: Bruce Glikas/‘Here Lies Love’

1st on Broadway

Nobody forecast that “Here Lies Love” on Broadway would see the light of day in 2023 but it was an exciting idea that was bouncing around since 10 years ago when it became an Off-Broadway sensation. “Conversations have been happening on and off since then,” he said. 

The idea firmed up around the time of the pandemic when the long absence from performing became a kind of impetus to get back on stage with a vengeance. Finding people to produce put the idea in motion, with the right people showing up and expanding the audience demographics.  The likes of Jo Koy, Jose Antonio Vargas, H.E.R., and Lea Salonga are among the several dozen producers.

“The job of an executive producer can look like a lot of different things,” said Bustamante.   Some people serve from a fundraising capacity, some as cultural ambassadors of the show.”

So many Filipinos are “testing the waters” and becoming producers through the show, he said. At the time of the interview, more than 20 producers and investors have come on board, and the number “continues to grow.”

“To me, that speaks to the greater mission of the show to expand the Filipino American impact.”

Arielle Jacobs is the new Imelda Marcos. Courtesy of ‘Here Lies Love’

Who plays Imelda?

The actor who will portray Imelda has remarkable acting creds and family relations. Arielle Jacobs (“Aladdin,” “Wicked”), the sister of theater actor Adam Jacobs, clinched the role following an international search that spanned the U.S, Canada and the Philippines.

“Arielle made such a strong impression right from her first audition,” said Bustamante. “Imelda is a history making, complex, challenging role.  It demanded a certain level of rigor from the audition process to really gauge who the right fit for the role is.” He said Arielle stepped into the role “as her own fully formed artist”.

Bringing “Here Lies Love” to Broadway opens the door to access in terms of Filipino stories that can be told, said Bustamante. After this, he hopes more vital Filipino stories would find their way.

The cast is composed of 23 actors and dancers. He said 50 people are in the rehearsal studio every day from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. The entire cast is U.S.-based but one-third was born in the Philippines. Bustamante is U.S.-born and studied musical theatre at Philadelphia’s University of the Arts.

“The Broadway stage is the largest theatrical stage in the world and for a Filipino story to be centered even for just a moment on a stage this big, is history making,” he said. “My hope is people will be able to look at our show and say this must not be the last…even if it was the first.”

© The FilAm 2023

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