While you expect it to generate definitive productions of the classics, the National isn’t really the British home of the great new musical. I say that, but then I think, or is it? Because it seems like just last year I was there watching The Light Princess and some few years before that the one about the mass murderer in Ipswich. Well, forget that one, let’s go back to The Light Princess: inventive, beautiful, gorgeously sung, it was just a few hummable tunes away from greatness.
This is a good position for the National to be as it launches its latest musical venture, Here Lies Love, which takes the winning ingredient of known pop composer (with experimental tendencies) and adds the discipline of historical fact (I see that other musical elbowing its way in) to gives us Evita meets Mamma Mia … well, not quite, but we do get disco balls, glitter, and miles of really big hair and a female lead with an ego too big for any one country to contain.
You know, I read that, and I’m thinking it already sounds great, and I haven’t even started talking about what really makes this show awesome (although I am earwormed with the title track as I type this) – but be advised apparently plenty of other people have figured this out as it’s already sold out for the next 3 months. So let me tease you: if you get one of the standing seats (normally a source of horror for me) you will spend the 90 minutes of this show in the middle of the Philippine revolution – although you’ll also go to a beauty pageant in a small town, dance at a 50s ball, disco down in New York town, and even attend a funeral, all while the various platforms of the stage whizz and whirl around you. From the dance floor, you will be guided by pink jumpsuited ushers and encouraged by a bleach-haired DJ who keeps the beats thumping while you’re being taught to line dance.
What I found particularly brilliant about this show is that all of this fun is happening while we’re being walked through the life story of a side figure of international politics, Imelda Marcos: a woman who I suspect liked to see herself as Jackie Kennedy but who wound up being some cross between Evita and Anna Nicole. Brimming with ego, not actually the sophisticate she imagined herself, Imelda was basically a beauty queen who married well. It sounds sordid but it becomes even juicier when you see how this little woman reacts when she gets some power. Is it pretty? well, no, but that would have been bland. It’s all made more edgy through the use of photos and occasional sound tapes that remind us that for all what we’re watching is fictionalized, and the lives that Imelda affected were very real. Mmm mmm, a musical with bite that leaves you humming along. Makes you glad they’re running it twice a night on non-school nights doesn’t it?
(This review is for a performance that took place November 12, 2014. It runs through January 8th.)