Friday, July 7, 2017

Imelda Marcos musical misses its San Francisco run

Ruthie Ann Miles as Imelda Marcos and Jose Llana as Ferndinand Marcos greet their followers played by the audience in the Broadway production of "Here Lies Love."

IT'S TOO BAD that the musical Here Lies Love, won't be coming to San Francisco disppointing thousands of Filipino/American residents of the Bay Area.

The Broadway hit musical by David Byrne about Imelda Marcos' rise from a provincial beauty queen to the Iron Butterfly had been launched on a national tour with its first -- and as it turns out, the only -- stop in Seattle.

It was originally slated to also have a run in San Francisco but production costs proved too expensive for the American Conservatory Theater.

The show was so popular in Seattle that its run was extended to June 18. The general public was disappointed that the orignal run was sold out, mainly to season ticket holders. The extension allowed non-subcribers, some who took part in the anti-Marcos movement, a chance to see the musical that played such a a strong influence in the development of the Asian/American movement. 

ACT announced in November that they had to cancel the planned Here Lies Love porduction. ACT artistic director Carey Perloff says they've been working for two years to bring the piece to San Francisco but "Ultimately the logistics and cost proved insurmountable," he said in a press release.

The difficulty is staging the Tony-award winning musical is the interactive nature of the production in which, the audience, without the traditional seats, become part of the play. In a span less than two hours, the audience becomes the worshippers of the Marcoses, dancers in a discoteque, and protesters against the Marcos dictatorship. 

It would have required ACT to removes the rows of seats in one of its theaters and building a stage that thrusts into the what would have been the best and most expensive seats in the house.

It's hard to believe that ACT couldn't find the wherewithal to house the interactive musical,

Seattle Rep managed to find a way to revamp its theater and benefited from the gamble. Here Lies Love became the best-selling production in Seattle Repertory's history, said the theater company's spokeswoman Michelle Sanders Leyva.

Despite having an audience base 10 times larger than Seattle, San Francisco's ACT chose economy over art; safety over risk. 

That's unfortunate because the critically acclaimed musical most likely would have been sold out and been given an extended run in San Francisco, the center of the anti-Marcos movement in the U.S. and home to one of the  second largest concentration of Filipinos and Filipino/Americans outside of the Philippines. L.A. takes the No.1 honors. 

It is also timely because the Marcos family is attempting to regain power and influence in the Philippines. The dictator's son, Bong Bong, narrowly missed becoming vice president in the last election. He remains as a senator in the Congress of current strongman Rodrigo Duterete.

It's rare that a musical about an Asian subject that appeals to an Asian audience comes along. In San Francisco at least, we have to satisfy ourselves with experimental, low-budget off-Broadway productions. While the smaller plays may be earnest and their themes important -- I don't mean to imply the hard work and talent that goes into them is of lesser quality -- but, why should those productions be relegated to a side stage? 
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However worthy those artistic endeavors might be, they don't usually have the wide audience appeal of a proven Broadway hit. 

In the Bay Area, one of the most diverse regions in America with a strong link with Asia and the Pacific, outsiders shouldn't always be the ones seeking detours and shortcuts into the mainstream. When a production comes along that can bridge the divisions within our society, it should be seen by as many people as possible. That is the essence of art. ACT should have taken that leap with Here Lies Love. Diversity and inclusion should be a two-way street.