Friday, October 9, 2009

Imelda: A New Musical


Music by Nathan Wang, lyrics by Aaron Coleman, book by Sachi Oyama. Dir. Tim Dang. Chor. Reggie Lee. Julia Miles Theater. (CLOSED)

Critics regard Imelda, a new musical about Imelda Marcos, former first lady of the Philippines, as a sort of poor man's Evita. They damn the production with faint praise, saying the music and cast are not that bad. The biggest let down for the critics is that the show does not go beyond the conventional notion of Imelda as a shopaholic to offer any new insights on her story.

Variety B-
(Marilyn Stasio) There's a terrific song in act two called "Martial Law With a Smile" that offers a taste of what a tough little show "Imelda" might have been, had its creatives the stomach for it. After taking a few swipes at its Asian neighbors ("Rebellion's sweeping Malaysia/Korea's split in two/Japan's unleashed the Red Army/Jakarta's out of rice"), the song goes on to sing the praises of the Philippines under martial law. No dirt, no drugs, no crime, no corruption -- but also no congress, no newspapers, no free speech and no democracy. Nathan Wang's music has a nasty little bounce, and while the irony of Aaron Coleman's lyrics may be a little thick, that's the fun of it. Jaygee Macapugay, who has been pretty much carrying the show on her back in the title role, finally relaxes her jaw on "Martial Law," visibly delighted to have a song that allows her to show some intelligence.

Backstage C+
(Lisa Jo Sagolla) One comes away feeling pleasantly entertained and genuinely invested in the political and human dramas of the historical narrative. The biggest mistake made by the creators of this "Evita" wannabe (including book writer Sachi Oyama) was probably choosing Marcos over Corazon Aquino as their central character. Lacking the gravity of Eva Peron, the superficial Marcos—whose fame derives mainly from her abundant shoe collection—pales in contrast to the truly heroic Aquino (Liz Casasola), who was elected president after her husband was assassinated. When Casasola displays Aquino's strength of spirit and character in an inspiring 11 o'clock anthem, it becomes apparent that the real story—an important tale of feminine courage—has just begun.

The New York Times C
(Anita Gates) Ms. Macapugay has a strong, clear, appealing voice. The music, composed by Nathan Wang with lyrics by Aaron Coleman, is not half bad. Two numbers performed by the male leads, “Maharlika” and “If I Had Raised the Butterfly,” are among the standouts. But it would be nice if “Imelda” were a little flashier. Ms. Marcos, now 80, the widow of the former Philippine president, Ferdinand Marcos, is best known for one thing: the almost 3,000 pairs of shoes she left behind in the presidential palace when the couple fled the country in 1986. Yet the inevitable musical number “3,000 Pairs of Shoes” shows us only six or seven pairs.

New York Post C-
(Frank Scheck) You probably know the rest of the story outlined in Sachi Oyama's wobbly book, which never quite figures out what sort of tone it wants to adopt. The use of three "Muses" as a sort of Greek chorus is more hackneyed than illuminating, and only a few of the numbers, such as "Martial Law . . . With a Smile," display the satirical bite the subject matter demands. Nathan Wang's music and Aaron Coleman's lyrics are pleasant but unmemorable -- their bland, pop style wouldn't be out of place in "High School Musical" -- while Tim Dang's staging is effective, as are the lead performances.

The Village Voice C-
(Alexis Soloski) Imelda Marcos's strong will and gaudy outerwear earned her the sobriquet "the steel butterfly." An image of that vivid insect graces the stage of Imelda, a new musical produced by the Pan Asian Repertory Theatre. Of course, some translate that nickname as "the iron butterfly"—and what a musical that might have inspired! (Just imagine Imelda belting out "In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida.") Instead, writers Sachi Oyama, Nathan Wang, and Aaron Coleman offer a show too well-mannered to qualify as camp, too soggy to play as satire. This portrait of the Philippines's former first lady and inveterate shoe collector should be stiletto-heel-sharp, but it falls ballet flat.

TheaterMania D+
(Adam R. Perlman) The closest Imelda comes to excitement is the act one finale -- and it's not a coincidence that it's a fairly direct rip-off of Evita's "A New Argentina." (Brian Jose is rather unconvincing as the Che-like dissident.) Proving an equal opportunity copycat, Imelda borrows from other sources as well; much of the action is narrated by a girl group (Angelica-Lee Aspiras, Sacha Iskra, and Jonelle Margallo) who might as well be in Little Shop of Horrors. Nathan Wang's music is pleasant, generic stuff -- mainly legit with occasional hints of theater rock and Asian flavoring. Aaron Coleman's lyrics are a couple of notches worse, as is Sachi Oyama's broad book. Thankfully, Tim Dang's direction and Reggie Lee's excessive choreography keep things moving. But ultimately, the musical makes the same mistake as Imelda herself did by focusing completely on the surface.

Variety B- 9; Backstage C+ 8; The New York Times C 7; New York Post C- 6; Village Voice C- 6; TheaterMania D+ 5; TOTAL: 41/6 = 6.83 (C)

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