Lea Salonga to make Broadway return with Imelda Marcos musical

The Tony Award-winning actress will also serve as producer in the show based on the life of the former Filipina first lady

MALIBU, CA - APRIL 18:  Lea Salonga performs in support of her "Blurred Lines" release at Smothers Theatre on April 18, 2017 in Malibu, California.  (Photo by Jeff Golden/Getty Images)
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Celebrated Filipina singer and actress Lea Salonga is returning to the stage where it all began. The Tony and Olivier Award-winner has joined the cast of Here Lies Love, a Broadway musical based on the life of Imelda Marcos, former first lady of the Philippines.

The musical, which made its Off-Broadway debut in 2013, recounts Marcos's humble beginnings, her marriage to senator Ferdinand Marcos, their rise to power and eventual ouster by a people's revolution. It is set to make its debut at the Broadway Theatre on June 17.

Salonga, the first Asian actress to win a Tony Award in 1991 for her role in Miss Saigon, will play Aurora Aquino, the mother of politician Ninoy Aquino, a rival of Ferdinand Marcos who was assassinated in 1983. She will take to the stage as a guest star for five weeks from July 11. The role will then be taken on by other guest stars from the Philippines, who are yet to be announced.

A search is also under way internationally for the rest of the Filipino cast of more than 20 actors.

“It's very special to me for a number of reasons," said Salonga, who also serves as producer on the show.

"Number one, as a Filipino artist, I am incredibly excited that audiences will finally get to see, on Broadway, this beautiful, impactful and important musical.

“Two, I get to go back to the Broadway Theatre, which is where I made my own Broadway debut over 30 years ago, which is wild for me to think about. So it's a really sweet full circle moment."

Here Lies Love is inspired by a concept album by singer and producer David Byrne and DJ Fatboy Slim, which was released in 2010. Actors Jose Llana and Conrad Ricamora, who played Ferdinand Marcos and Ninoy Aquino respectively in the Off-Broadway production, will reprise their roles.

The announcement of the show last month caused a stir online with some raising concerns that it glosses over the Marcos regime's 14-year dictatorship. Some said it glamorises and romanticises Imelda Marcos, who was known for her lavish lifestyle during her husband's rule, and is accused by the Philippine government of having amassed a massive personal fortune. In a series of hearings dating back to the 1980s, the Supreme Court of the Philippines ruled in favour of the government.

According to GMA Online, as of 2017, more than 171 billion Philippine pesos ($3.1 billion) worth of wealth amassed by the Marcos family and their associates during their rule have been recovered by the Presidential Commission on Good Government, a government agency set up in 1986 to recover the "ill-gotten wealth" accumulated by the Marcoses.

Others pointed out the timing, with the show coming less than a year after current Filipino president Ferdinand Marcos Jr has brought the family back to power.

The reactions prompted producers to respond on social media, calling Here Lies Love an "an Anti-Marcos show" and "a pro-Filipino show".

"History repeats itself. Democracies all over the world are under threat. The biggest threat to any democracy is disinformation, Here Lies Love offers a creative way of re-information — an innovative template on how to stand up to tyrant," they said.

“Filipinos are among the largest immigrant groups in America — and also among the most invisible culturally, despite the two nations’ shared colonial histories," producer Jose Antonio Vargas told playbill.com.

"While the Asian diaspora can no longer be denied in American popular culture, Filipinas and Filipinos remain woefully outside the spotlight. I’m thrilled to help break barriers on what has historically been an exclusive stage: Broadway."

Here Lies Love will begin performances at the Broadway Theatre on June 17

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Updated: March 01, 2023, 3:04 PM