Young musical director mashes history with music to create entertaining show

Studio 360

Ruthie Ann Miles, center, plays Imelda Marcos in Alex Timbers' new musical, Here Lies Love. (Photo by Joan Marcus.)

The director Alex Timbers is young, but in the last few years he’s carved out a unique niche as a director of historical mashup musicals.

He directed Gutenberg! The Musical! as well as the critically acclaimed Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson.

“Growing up, I was a fan of Schoolhouse Rock,” Timbers said. “I like figuring out ways you can make the past palatable and fun by crashing together the lowbrow and the highbrow.”

Timbers is the director of a new show, Here Lies Love, written by David Byrne and Fatboy Slim — part musical, part dance party, part history lesson. It tells the story of Imelda Marcos, wife and collaborator of corrupt former Philippines President Ferdinand Marcos.

“When you hear there is a disco musical about Imelda Marcos, you think it's going to be some spoofy thing,” Timbers said. “We didn't want that.”

So from the very beginning the creative team agreed, there will be no shoes.

"This ends before the shoes," he said.

Imedla Marcos is often remembered for the 2,700 pairs of shoes she collected — a sign of the lavish accumulation of wealth and power the pair managed, largely at the expense of their country.

Still, the show is a far cry from the melodrama of Evita. It immerses the audience in a disco experience — no seats, only a dance floor, with line-dancing lessons before the curtain. Lights are kept low to encourage reluctant dancers.

“We wanted it to feel like a nightclub,” Timbers said. “Imelda loved to visit Studio 54 and she had a disco ball in her apartment with a dance floor on the roof, so we thought that should be the idiom for the staging.”

Working with recent history was a change from shows like Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson. In the audience the first night was the son of the general who wrote Marcos’ infamous Proclamation No. 1081 imposing martial law, which is a key moment in the show.

The majority of the cast members are of Filipino ancestry, and had relatives who experienced the regime firsthand.

“They're getting to tell the story of their parents and grandparents.” Timbers said.