Emil Guillermo: Why I will see "Here Lies Love," the tuneful autocratic dictatorship of Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos
If we apply the Florida educational standards of history to Filipino history, I suppose there would be a “positive benefit” of the Marcos dictatorship—the authoritarian singing and the dancing of the Marcoses themselves!
But wait a minute, the history of a Filipino dictatorship funded and propped up by Reagan and Bush and the interests of the U.S. government? If it’s taught at all in Florida schools, let alone any schools in the U.S, it gets a paragraph at best.
But singing and dancing? We can go on for 90 minutes! It’s all on display in the new musical on Broadway based on Imelda Marcos and the late Filipino dictator Ferdinand Marcos. “Here Lies Love,” or should that be more simply “Her lies…”? The “love” part is debatable.
First, let me say I have a healthy respect for Filipino and Filipino American history from 1587 to the present, all of which is represented in my own personal and comic one-man-show “Emil Amok: Lost NPR Host,” which had a seven-show run Off-Off-Broadway at the Frigid Fringe in New York City last February. I’m doing another iteration of the show at the San Francisco Fringe Aug, 12, 17, and 19. (Go to www.amok.com for ticket info.)
I find that history tends to give my show weight. It’s so heavy, I have to make fun of it.
There’s a different use of history in “Here Lies Love,” which was concocted by the rock-pop icon David Byrne and Fatboy Slim. The heavy Filipino history is just an excuse for the music and dance that's all so good, it apparently seems to make the history float away. From all reports, this is not Mel Brooks’ dark comedy “The Producers” and its “Springtime for Hitler.”
This Marcos musical is no satire.
“Here Lies Love” is a lot more serious about its singing and dancing.
The show has a multi-talented all-Filipino cast, and until Aug. 13, it features the Filipino diva of Broadway herself, Lea Salonga. Her performance of the song, “Just Ask the Flowers,” is being seen as a tribute to those imprisoned and murdered by the Marcos regime. The tune anchors the show and may be just the thing that singlehandedly balances the previous 80 minutes or so for its autocratic mirth and its curious subtext, the hideous martial law era of the Philippines.
As a Asian American Filipino journalist and sometimes theatrical performer, I’m interested in the use of theater as spectacle, as well as any attempt to tell an important part of the Filipino story.
I also want to be supportive of the employment of all the talented Filipino actors, dancers, and singers on display.
So without doubt, I’m going to see “Here Lies Love” when I get to New York later in August. And I hope you do too.
I’m just curious. How does it feel to be embedded in the disco mindset of the Marcos dictatorship?
From the reviews I’ve read, this Broadway production pulls it off, at least physically. The theater has been transformed into a Studio 54-like nightclub, where the audience can stand on stage and be immersed among the performers. Watch Imelda rise beyond her shoulder pads with nary a shoe joke. See Ferdinand do his thing with other women. See the assassinated hero Benigno Aquino challenge the duo.
The Playbill comes with a timeline of actual Filipino history, so if you are drunk from song and dance and are just having too much fun, the timeline should help your moral compass.
It’s also a reminder that martial law was essentially a fun time just for the Marcos duo and their cronies.
For the majority of the Philippines, there was little joy in discoville.
I know the history and covered the Philippines during Benigno Aquino’s assassination in 1983.Since that time, the country has seen People Power oust the Marcos regime. But it’s also seen that movement stymied by the global trend of autocracy. Under Rodrigo Duterte, the Marcos name was rehabilitated, enabling Bong-Bong, the son of Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos, to become president now.
So has enough time passed to appreciate the Marcos’ history in retrospect? Can this show have a run as long as the Marcos reign in the Philippines?
For some of the Filipino American producer/investors of “Here Lies Love,” this may be the time to look at the history through a different lens. They include people like Jose Antonio Vargas, the Filipino-born American-based reporter who called attention to his undocumented status and the plight of other undocumented members of the 1.5 Filipino American generation.
For decades, the Marcos family has divided the Filipino community.Pro-Marcos, Anti-Marcos. Young, old. My father, from Marcos’ province, was Pro-Marcos. Will seeing the show make the community more willing to forgive the dictators? Do we sing about the past to embrace and forgive a new generation of Marcos leadership? That would be very Catholic, a colonial remnant.
And if you aren’t Filipino and don’t know Filipino history, is this your gateway invite to learn more? Or are you happy enough with humming some beautiful songs instead of learning about all the lives changed through the dictatorship's jailing, torture, and murder of thousands of people?
Aquino is the marquee name, but I think of my friend Violeta "Bullet" Marasigan, who died in a freak accident in 2000 in San Francisco. During martial law in the Philippines, she and her husband were among the 70,000 jailed for their anti-Marcos activism.
Perhaps, too, the show is relevant to an America a year away from the 2024 election, a cautionary tale of how a fascist regime of the past looks like live. Can you imagine it happening in America now because we were all too busy singing and dancing? Forget about Nero fiddling while Rome burns–Can Donald Trump sing and dance? Will we see that on Broadway?
All those questions and the immersive staging make me want to see
“Here Lies Love.”
We can argue later about what it all means, as is our First Amendment right.
No one could do that under martial law in the Philippines.
NOTE: I will talk about this column and other matters on “Emil Amok’s Takeout,” my AAPI micro-talk show. Live @2p Pacific. Livestream on Facebook; my YouTube channel; and Twitter. Catch the recordings on www.amok.com.