Judging from the information served up in “Imelda,” a musical portrait of “the first lady of the Philippines,” Imelda Marcos is no match for that other musically enshrined 20th-century distaff power behind the throne, Eva Peron. World-preem tuner is undermined by a superficial book (by Sachi Oyama) that provides ample evidence of Imelda’s all-consuming narcissism, but little of the shrewd manipulative ability that beguiled a husband and a country. Workable score by Nathan Wang and lyrics by Aaron Coleman are adequately realized in Tim Dang’s brisk staging, but a hard-working ensemble cannot make up for an inherent lack of substance.
The production highlights the interlocking agendas of the singularly ambitious Imelda (Liza Del Mundo); her socially conscious childhood friend Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino (Antoine Reynaldo Diel); the single-minded politician Ferdinand Marcos (Giovanni Ortega); and Ninoy’s loving wife, Cory (Myra Cris Ocenar).
Imelda’s outrageous manipulation of a beauty contest sets things in motion. Tuner then covers her bizarre courtship by Ferdinand, his ascendance to the Philippines’ top office, the country’s subsequent political turmoil, then the exile and assassination of political dissenter Ninoy. Musical ends with Cory’s victory over Imelda when the women stand in for their hubbies in the 1986 presidential election.
This could be the stuff of high musical drama. The thrust of “Imelda,” however, is signaled in act-one opener “3,000 Pairs of Shoes,” performed by the talented Muses (Ramona DuBarry, Blythe Matsui and Annie Katsura Rollins), who look and sound like they were hijacked from EWP’s 2003 staging of “Little Shop of Horrors.” As in “Little Shop,” the trio entwine themselves throughout the action, doing whatever narrative chores are necessary to move the plot along. But the plot spends a lot more time on Imelda’s love of material goods than on the events of history.
Del Mundo is impressive as Imelda, segueing believably from giggly, movie magazine-loving schoolgirl to the rigid tower of power who unflinchingly allows her former best friend to be condemned to prison for eight years. Along the way, Del Mundo proves an expressive vocalist.
Nathan Wang’s melodic if not overly imaginative score provides an amalgam of pop stylings, including the rockish “Imeldific,” the salsa-tinged “Martial Law … With a Smile” and the rap-oriented “Maharlika.” Particularly effective is the tender Ninoy-Imelda duet “See What I See.”
Del Mundo also scores with “Forever Part of You,” which expresses the same yearning for unconditional adoration that permeates “Evita.”
Ortega exudes Marcos’ unflinching ambition, instilling the would-be dictator with humor and charisma. His well-projected sense of entitlement gives veracity to first-act closer “Like a God.” He’s well balanced by the lovable, sad-sack earnestness of Diel’s Ninoy. Ortega also possesses one of this tuner’s better voices, as evidenced in the Ninoy-Marcus duet, “If I Had Raised the Butterfly.”
Ocenar is not as successful in her out-of-tune rendering of the plaintive “Myself, My Heart.”
“Imelda’s” production values are up to EWP’s usual excellent standards, particularly Victoria Petrovich’s all purpose set and the impressively varied costumes of Ivy Chou.
Composer Wang also serves as music director, with six musicians providing excellent underscoring to the onstage action.