Posts Tagged ‘Natalie Mendoza’

If you’d accompanied me to the Talking Heads concert in Bristol in 1977 and whispered in my ear ‘in 37 years’ time, you’ll be leaving the National Theatre humming the title song of David Byrne’s first musical’, I’d have reacted with disbelief and roared with laughter, but last night I did. Like others of the period (Elvis Costello, Joe Jackson…) Byrne continually re-invents himself, always interestingly and usually successfully, as he has here, with the help of Fatboy Slim. It’s the most original musical I’ve seen since Jerry Springer – The Opera 11 years ago, also at the National Theatre.

I’ve had a soft spot for the Philippines since a business trip there in 1993, 7 years after the People Power Revolution that forms the conclusion of this show. Filipino’s are amongst the world’s most hospitable people and while I was there the wife of our local GM took me on a private tour of the (presidential) Malacanan Palace, where she worked, which by then was more of a museum of excess. I saw the vast collection of shoes (though I didn’t count them) which has become the symbol of the Marcos’ corrupt and oppressive regime.

Byrne tells us Imelda’s story from her troubled youth to exile in 1986 with next to no dialogue and it works very well. He takes his lead from her love of disco and sets it in a modern one, with everything you’d expect in terms of lighting, projections and sound (including a giant mirror ball, obviously). The audience on the dance floor are surrounded by moving platforms and the action takes place absolutely everywhere, including amongst them, some becoming extras in the tale. There’s an eclectic mix of musical styles and most of the songs are short and to the point. Though it’s fast paced, the storytelling doesn’t feel rushed. Perhaps focusing on four main characters – Imelda & Ferdinand, opposition leader and Imelda’s ex Ninoy Aquino (I didn’t know that) and her childhood friend Estrella – helps give it more depth. It struck me how much of her story resembles that of Eva Peron, though this and Evita are poles apart as shows.

Alex Timbers’ staging is completely original, fresh, inventive and exciting; even though I knew beforehand how it was to be staged, I was still unprepared for this. The design team of David Korins, Clint Ramos, Peter Nigrini and Justin Townsend have done a superb job. You’re continually moving your head as the action moves around the space, but it’s so slickly done it just becomes part of the experience. The performances are as fresh and exciting as the staging. Natalie Mendoza is terrific as Imelda, managing to sing very well ‘on the move’ with some extraordinarily quick costume changes (I think she’s got at least two costumes on at any one time!). Both Mark Bautista and Dean John-Wilson are playing older much of the time (I don’t think actors of the appropriate age would have the energy) but their characterisations are very good and they too sing very well. Gia Macuja Atchison has a ‘quieter’ role as Estrella which she plays beautifully, providing welcome contrast and breathing space.

I’m sure someone’s out there scouting for suitable venues to transfer this to after it finishes its run as the opener of the new Dorfman Theatre – opening with a bang and a treat.

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