The butterfly sleeves were out in full bloom last night at the Broadway opening night of Here Lies Love, the disco-pop musical from David Byrne and Fatboy Slim, about the rise and fall of former Philippines first lady Imelda Marcos. Read reviews of the show here. To celebrate the first Broadway musical featuring an all-Filipino cast, many members of the show turned up on the red carpet sporting modern twists on traditional Filipino dress—including outfits enhanced with large puffy sleeves.
"It's called the butterfly sleeve. It's from the traditional Filipino terno, which is the national dress of the Philippines. And there are many different variations and we're very proud of it," says the show's costume designer and lead producer Clint Ramos (who was sporting leather butterfly sleeves).
While some on the red carpet wore dresses and shirts outfitted with the butterfly sleeves, others took a more traditional approach by wearing a barong. It was the perfect way to celebrate Filipino excellence on the Broadway stage, and it was a poignant moment for Ramos, who had been working on Here Lies Love since 2003.
"David Byrne asked me to do a couple of sketches for a thing that he was thinking about," recalls Ramos, who was born and raised in the Philippines. "The project has never left my heart. It's always been there and it's made me deal with my practice, in my full personhood, and I think that's really unique."
Indeed, many of the cast members on the red carpet says that this was the first time they had ever played characters onstage that reflected their heritage. For the show's leading lady Arielle Jacobs, who plays Imelda Marcos, the show has been an opportunity for her to reconnect with her family's history: "I am just so happy that the first Filipino cast on Broadway is opening their show tonight and showing the world that we are here, that we are Filipinos, we're proud to be Filipinos. We're telling this incredible, important part of Filipino history. And to have the world's Filipinos and non Filipinos alike really be moved by this story really be affected by it—it's just so incredible to witness."
Below, we asked the attendees of the Here Lies Love opening night red carpet to educate us on what's disco. Is a rubber chicken disco? Is Joe Biden disco? Is 3,000-piece shoe collection disco? We asked, they answered. And scroll down to read more opening night reflections from the cast of Here Lies Love.
Here Lies Love first premiered at the Public Theater in 2013, where it wowed New York audiences by turning the theatre into a Studio 54-style nightclub. The audiences stood and danced with, and interacted with, the actors as they told a story of how Imelda Marcos and her husband Ferdinand Marcos became leaders of the Philippines, how they turned a democracy into a dictatorship, and how they were eventually overthrown by the People Power Revolution.
For its Broadway run, the Broadway Theatre has likewise been transformed. The orchestra seating was removed so that audience members can stand and dance with the actors—at times, the performers are close enough to touch.
For the actors in the show, it allows them to see who is coming to the show, including celebrities. "Seeing Jesse Tyler Ferguson the other day just dancing in the audience with us, and Whoopi Goldberg doing a line dance—oh my god, these are icons and legends fully line dancing with us. It is so, so much fun," says Jasmine Forsberg, who plays Maria Luisa, a character who accompanies Imelda on her international tours and gets a scintillating solo number in the show.
There's also been some close-contact moments with audience members. Conrad Ricamora remembers when he performed in the show in 2013, he was touched by Tyra Banks. "We had a fire drill so we all had to evacuate and then re-start the show. I jumped back on the platform, but I slipped and Tyra Banks was behind me. And she went to push my butt up!" he says chuckling. In other circumstances, it might have been inappropriate, "But I appreciate the help, Tyra. It is OK." In the show, Ricamora plays Ninoy Aquino, Imelda's most vocal critic and the person who kick-starts the People Power Revolution.
The interactivity and disco-club setting may seem like a gimmick or a marketing ploy. But that concept was incredibly important to Byrne and the creative team. Scenic designer David Korins has worked on the show for over a decade and oversaw the overhaul of the Broadway Theatre. To him, the design is an integral part of the production: "This is a story about an extraordinary revolution, right? And so it feels like what more poignant way to tell it then make the performers part of the people, the mass of the people. At different times, the audience is cast in different roles in the show: we're at a wedding, we're at a funeral, we're at an election rally, we're at a protest."
For Moses Villarama—who is out with the audience the entire show as he operates a DJ booth up in the mezzanine, and directly addresses the crowd and hypes them up—the show is "a kind of drug, it's amazing," he marvels (while wearing a traditional Filipino barong), "My DJ booth is so close to some of the audience members. Literally, five feet away. People have fist bumped me, taking selfies with me, asked me to take photos of them with this set...What we've created here, not only is it an amazing dance party for a good chunk of the show, but then we bring it down and really hone in on what the main theme of the show is, which is how easy it is to get swept up in it all and how fragile democracy is."
On the red carpet, it was clear that despite the criticisms of the show from people who thinks it glorifies a dictator, the cast of Here Lies Love are proud of the work they've done—and the people they've done it with.
"I'm really, really proud to be a part of it," says Melody Butiu—who plays Estrella, Imelda's childhood friend who Imelda betrays. "And to be in an all-Filipino cast, it feels almost like a family." She then adds, "I never thought this would happen in my lifetime."
Tony winner Lea Salonga (who produced the show and is also starring in the show for a limited engagement until August 13 as Ninoy Aquino's mother, Aurora), has powerful words for what this moment means: "We are celebrating representation. We are celebrating occupying space with our chests held high and without any apologies; being exactly who we are and not hiding our faces, not hiding our culture. And hopefully it inspires other people of color to do the same thing, and that there are more stories that will get to be told."
See photos of the Here Lies Love opening night red carpet, which included appearances from H.E.R., Josh Gad and Andrew Rannells, Daniel Dae Kim, and Spike Lee.
The cast of Here Lies Love also includes Jaygee Macapugay (Shucked), Julia Abueva (KPOP), Aaron Alcaraz (Mean Girls), Kristina Doucette(Wicked), Jeigh Madjus (Moulin Rouge!), Geena Quintos (Miss Saigon), Shea Renne (Hadestown), and Angelo Soriano (Aladdin), as well as Reanne Acasio, Renée Albulario, Carol Angeli, Nathan Angelo, Roy Flores, Timothy Matthew Flores, Sarah Kay, and Aaron "AJ" Mercado. For many, the show is personal as several of them and their families lived in the Philippines when the Marcos family was in power.
Returning to the project are original director Alex Timbers (Moulin Rouge) and choreographer Annie-B Parson. They are joined on the creative team by music director J. Oconer Navarro, Tony-nominated scenic designer David Korins, Tony-winning costume designer Clint Ramos, Tony-winning lighting designer Justin Townsend, sound designers M.L. Dogg and Cody Spencer, Tony-nominated projection designer Peter Nigrini, and cultural and community liaison Giselle “G” Töngi. Casting is by Tara Rubin, Xavier Rubiano, and Gail Quintos. Bobby Garcia served as casting consultant. General management will be by Foresight Theatrical. Tom Gandey and J Pardo have also contributed additional music for the production.