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"Here Lies Love": A dance-pop musical on the life of Imelda Marcos

"Here Lies Love," the Imelda Marcos dance-pop musical
"Here Lies Love," the Imelda Marcos dance-pop musical 08:04

In 1965, when Filipinos elected Imelda Marcos' husband, Ferdinand, president, many embraced the young couple as a hopeful new start. For years, the Marcoses' power was firmly rooted in American foreign policy – a former U.S. colony, staunchly supported as a democratic bulwark against communism in Asia.

But nearly two decades later, amid violence against political opponents and corruption (symbolized by an infamous shoe collection), Filipinos took to the streets. In 1986, the "People Power" revolution ousted the Marcoses, forcing them into exile in the U.S.

And that's the story being told in a new musical – a disco-pop musical, of all things – created by, of all people, singer-songwriter David Byrne, of Talking Heads.

"I read that Imelda Marcos, former first lady of the Philippines, loved going to discos," he said. "She had a mirror ball installed in her New York townhouse. So I thought, maybe this is a story that can be told in that way."

Arielle Jacobs as Imelda Marcos in "Here Lies Love."  "Here Lies Love"

It's taken Byrne more than 30 years, but he's finally brought it to Broadway. The musical is called "Here Lies Love."

"This is what she said she would like on her tombstone," Byrne said. "She said repeatedly that everything she's done, she did for love."

Spoiler alert: There are no shoe showstoppers here. Rather, it's an attempt to understand what drove Imelda Marcos, and what brought her down.

Arielle Jacobs, who plays Imelda, said, "It's been a challenge, the dichotomy of a character that wants so much to heal the planet, and share so much love with her country, and put her country on the map, and have good intentions in the beginning, and then eventually get controlled by having too much power."

Jose Llana and Arielle Jacobs in "Here Lies Love."  "Here Lies Love"

Her co-star, Jose Llana, didn't have to look far to research his role as Ferdinand Marcos. Llana was born in the Philippines during the nine-year period of violent military rule ordered by Marcos. His parents, who'd been activists in college, fled to America with their family.

Quijano asked, "What did they say when you told them that you were going to be playing Ferdinand Marcos?"

"It was not a comfortable conversation, to say the least!" Llana laughed. "But you know, to tell the whole story, someone has to play him. And they wanted to make sure it was going to be telling the truth about what happened, and why we left."

Lea Salonga plays the grieving mother of assassinated opposition leader Benigno "Ninoy" Aquino. She's also a producer.

Salonga draws on her own memories as a teenager in the Philippines, the day the People Power revolution ignited: "I was having a birthday party, and we were getting the phone calls from the parents of some of the kids that were at the party: 'You have to go home, it's time for you to go home, because tanks are rolling up.'"

Salonga won a Tony Award 32 years ago for her performance in "Miss Saigon," in this same theater. Llana said, "When you won that Tony, I went straight to my parents and said, 'Look, Lea did it. I can go to New York now, too!' It's like, 'Lea's breakin' down that door for all of us.'"

"Here Lies Love" breaks down more doors. This is the first time Salonga has played a Filipina on stage. In fact, it's the first all-Filipino company on Broadway. "I could not, in 1991, would not have predicted that," she said.

"What does that mean to you?" Quijano asked.

"It means the world."

Lea Salonga as Aurora Aquino, mother of Benigno Aquino Jr., an opposition leader in exile from the Philippines, who was assassinated upon his return.  CBS News

It's not just what audiences see on stage that's different; it's the actual stage itself. David Korins, the show's scenic designer, transformed the Broadway Theatre into a nightclub. It meant leaving seats upstairs, but ripping out premium orchestra seats, making room for audience members who choose to watch (and dance) from the floor.

"Having done over 25 Broadway shows, and seen hundreds more, there has literally never been anything like this on Broadway ever," said Korins. "We surround the audience, and the audience surrounds us. Lots of action happens in and around the audience."

The Broadway Theatre has been transformed into a disco.  CBS News

Not everyone is applauding. Critics have concerns that the show sanitizes the history of the Marcos regime.

To those who object to devoting a show to a figure like Imelda Marcos, Salonga said, "Oh, goodness gracious. Our offering is, it's happened to us, but this is what happened in the end. Basically it's a story about how a people regain the power for themselves."

"Here Lies Love"

Llana added, "Our show is a Trojan horse that way. You come, get part of the action, you dance, have a good time, but then you get hit with the reality of what we're really talking about, what happens when democracy crumbles and martial law is proclaimed, and rights are taken away."

David Byrne said, "It's not like I want to glorify her, but I want to start with, as much as possible, a clean slate. She has a history, she has a story, but I want you to start with a person and kind of try and understand what made her do the things that she did."

Arielle Jacobs said, "There's a catharsis, and a lot of the older Filipinos that I see in the audience are crying. Because it's giving them a space to feel the things that their families didn't want to talk about."

The real-life story is still being written. Imelda Marcos is now 94, and back in the Philippines. Last year her son, known as "Bongbong," was elected president of the Philippines

And in May, as the U.S. seeks to counter China, President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. was warmly welcomed to the White House. 

For more info:

Story produced by Alan Golds. Editor: Steven Tyler. 

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