REVIEW | Seattle Rep’s ‘Here Lies Love’ a dazzling 90 minutes of non-stop music and action

Seattle Repertory Theatre has come down with a serious case of disco fever, and audiences are lining up in droves to catch it.

We’re talking about the sensational and innovative Imelda Marcos poperetta, “Here Lies Love,” making its regional theater bow in magnificent spectacle style.

“Here Lies Love” features 26 songs, music and lyrics by Oscar, Grammy, and Golden Globe Award-winning David Byrne (Talking Heads honcho) and Grammy Award winner, MTV Music Award winner, and big-beat maestro Fatboy Slim.

Byrne conceived the disco approach after reading that Imelda would dance the night away at the world’s up-scale nightclubs. Evidently, during private parties, she even burst into song herself.

Forty-plus years of Imelda’s life are packed into 90 minutes in non-stop music and action.

And it’s a dazzling 90 minutes, thanks to the outstanding cast, combined with the technical know-how, precision, and coordination. The amazing stage crew anticipated every possibility.

The Rep pulled all 805 seats out of their main floor seating area and created a discotheque, a la Studio 54. In the middle and overhead, a sparkling mirror ball — bigger that the one on “Dancing with the Stars” — hovers over a movable platform. Depending on the action, it connects with other platforms to become a catwalk, a wild disco, a political rally, a bedroom, a vacation spot, a demonstration space, and whatever else is needed to tell the Imelda Marcos story.

During the heyday of her husband’s rule, from 1965 to 1986, lmelda slowly graduated into a corrupt figure, seduced by power and greed. She became complicit in her husband’s voter fraud and violence toward his rivals. Evidently, the peaceful People Power Revolution emerged victorious.

But she wasn’t always like that. Once upon a time a beautiful young girl named Imelda lived in a small village, went barefoot, and possessed a country girl’s sweetness.

But she wanted more. So off she went to the big city of Manila.

Within Rep’s disco club atmosphere, Byrne and Fatboy recreate the amazing journey of the globetrotting, Filipino First Lady from a troubled childhood, her beauty pageant days, her whirlwind, 11-day courtship and marriage to Ferdinand Marcos. Then came her star power as First Lady, and her subsequent descent into infamy, disgrace and exile.

Byrne likens the score to “the aural equivalent of amyl nitrite.”

A deejay spins the piped-in music to which the performers sing live. And prepare yourself — it is loud, thanks to 150 speakers scattered throughout the theater. Prepare yourself. But the Rep folks have that covered as well, and will gladly provide you with earplugs. You don’t even have to ask.

Alex Timbers directs. He is a two-time Tony-nominated director (“Peter and the Starcatcher” and “Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson”). Timbers is also the co-creator of the Amazon series “Mozart in the Jungle” which won the 2016 Golden Globe Award for Best Television Series - Musical or Comedy.

After a hullabaloo of pop-art graphics and musical foreplay, the theater goes dark. Then the lights come up to reveal a young Imelda singing “The Rose of Tacloban.” And for this critic, the lights came too quickly. It’s a lovely song of yearning. A lengthier pause between music/graphics would better set the mood.

Jaygee Macapugay from the Off-Broadway production, steps into Imelda’s shoes. And they fit beautifully. She has a lovely voice and believable acting chops.

She evolves from an innocent young girl into a hard-hearted beauty of condescension, power, and cruelty.

The cast also features actors from previous productions of “Here Lies Love.” Conrad Ricamora and Melody Butiu, reprising their roles from the original Off-Broadway cast as Ninoy Aquino (Imelda’s former beau and her husband’s political rival) and Estrella Cumpas (Imelda’s childhood friend and caregiver), add a powerful dimension to the production.

The suave and smooth-voiced Mark Bautista from the London cast makes a charismatic Ferdinand Marcos. And a wonderful ensemble of talented performers take on a variety of roles from romantic umbrella-bearing dancers and singers to a heartless band of security guards.

Dubbed the “Steel Butterfly, Imelda Marcos was first lady of the Philippines for 20-plus years. She was known for her extravagant lifestyle, including her obsession with shoes. While’s there’s no shoe fetish in this production, Imelda does change costumes 16 times during the show. Whew! Thank god for Velcro.

If you buy main floor tickets, you were part of 250 audience members herded by traffic coppers in orange/red jumpsuits, sporting sparkling red epaulets. You are a part of the performance. You line-dance. You wiggle and gyrate. You jump up and down like darling little Billy goats. And you love every minute.

Above the action, folks who prefer not to dance lean forward in special constructed galleries to watch the spectacle unfold. It brought back memories of disco days a few light years ago. This critic went disco dancing five or six times a week, aided by a popper or two, a pulsing beat and series of fabulous dance partners. (I won’t tell you how many.)

On opening night, Seattle Rep board member and arts patron Debbie Killinger found herself next to non-other than “Modern Family’s” redheaded star, Jesse Tyler Ferguson.

Turns out, he’s a big fan of the show and has seen it several times. And now he’s a big fan of Debbie.

The production elements of “Here Lies Love” are spectacular. They worked together flawlessly: Annie-B Parson’s marvelous choreography, with the precision, movable set design by David Korins, fabulous costume designs (no shoes but stunning couture gowns and ermine), by Clint Ramos, amazing lighting by Justin Townsend, dynamic sound by M. L. Dogg and Cody Spencer, and the museum quality projections by Peter Nigrini. It was enough to make this critic overflow with adjectives.

I especially loved the fluctuating expanse of gold lamé. I wanted to fly across over the dance floor — Tarzan-style — to grab it and abscond. Before I could quell my impulse, it disappeared.

It’s not the first time the life of a former first lady has unfolded in a sung-through show.

“Evita” the 1978 Broadway hit by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice. Their score produced some hit songs. Byrne’s songs are pleasant, but not necessarily mega-hits. However, as you exit the theater, you might find yourself singing or humming the title tune, “Here Lies Love.”

In case you’re wondering, the show’s title is comes from a comment made by Imelda as she viewed her husband embalmed body. She wanted the phrase “Here Lies Love” to be inscribed on her tombstone.

There’s been a lot of chatter about Seattle Rep’s huge risk in putting on this expensive production. But isn’t that what theater always is? A risk? It’s a path that can lead to greatness.

“Here Lies Love” runs through May 28 at Seattle Repertory Theatre. Tickets start at $65. Seattle Repertory Theatre Box Office at 206.443.2222 or toll-free at 877.900.9285, or go online at Discounted tickets for groups of 10 or more may be purchased by calling 206.443.2224. There will be NO LATE SEATING!