Arielle Jacobs and Lea Salonga
Arielle Jacobs and Lea Salonga

Arielle Jacobs & Lea Salonga on Here Lies Love & The Power of Representation

When Here Lies Love begins previews at the Broadway Theatre on June 17, audiences will be immersed in a dazzling disco dance club where they’ll enjoy up-close, powerhouse performances from Broadway star Arielle Jacobs and Tony Award winner Lea Salonga.

From the musical minds of David Byrne and Fatboy Slim, Here Lies Love follows “former Filipina First Lady Imelda Marcos’ astonishing rise to power and subsequent fall at the hands of the Philippine People Power Revolution,” and marks Broadway’s first all-Filipino cast.

As the cast rehearses and prepares for the July 20 opening, Broadway Direct sat down with Jacobs (who plays Marcos) and Salonga (who plays Aurora Aquino) to discuss their artistic careers, the historic casting milestone, and the power of representation.

Did y’all see Here Lies Love when it was at the Public?

Arielle Jacobs: I did. I was blown away by the quality of the storytelling and the immersive nature of it. As an artist, I get very excited with stories that are shining a light on history in a way that educates and inspires people to think about how it might relate to their lives. I really love that this piece does that. I think that art can get people to ask questions about how what they saw might reinform the choices that they’ve made in the past and the choices they’ll make moving forward. I think that’s the most exciting thing to do in art.

Especially when it’s live. TV and movies can do that, but, like you said, when it’s immersive, it takes it to another level.

Arielle: Exactly.

Lea Salonga: I saw it in London.

What was your reaction when you found out it was coming to Broadway?

Lea: I had seen that Conrad [Ricamora] and Jose [Llana] were going to be a part of it, and then I got the phone call asking if I would like to be a part of it. Of course, as a Filipino, you start asking all these questions: “Why is it happening now?” or “What would its effect have been if it happened a few years earlier or a few years later?” or “Does it even matter when this story gets told?” My answer to those questions that I had in my mind was that I couldn’t really concern myself with the “What if it had been done a different way or at a different time?” Everybody is going to have an opinion and everyone’s going to have their say, and none of it is invalid. I don’t think any opinion is invalid. It’s an opinion based on your own life experience and based on information that is being presented. But I guess there’s no bad time to tell a good story. This feels like a rare opportunity, but at the same time, I want to say that hopefully it opens doors for more authentic stories to get written and to get told.

This production marks the first all-Filipino cast on Broadway. It’s a moment of celebration, but do you wish this milestone happened sooner?

Lea: I think for people of color, they say that these more inclusive stories and more of this kind of authentic storytelling happens at a glacial pace. Our participation at the table hasn’t always come so quick. I remember being the only Asian in the show, or being told, “You can’t audition for that show because you’re not the correct racial background.”

Fast-forward to many years later, and we have opportunities where any person of color could occupy it. You have folks of multiple ethnic backgrounds playing the same role, and it doesn’t change anything in the storytelling. The first revival of Les Misérables — where, Arielle, I met your brother, Adam — was one of those litmus tests. We had basically every color in that cast. I’m thankful to [producer] Cameron Mackintosh for doing it. The conceit was, “This is the story. We’ve cast it in this way.” That was it.

It showed that it was a universal story.

Lea: Exactly. Every single person on that stage will know someone who’s probably experienced all of that. So, I’ve been in the show where I’m the only person of color, and then many, many years later, one of so many other people in the same show, and no one cared.

Arielle: Art is powerful because people can relate to it, and they relate more to a story that mirrors the world that they see around them. New York City is a very mixed conglomerate of ethnicities, so I’m excited for theater, and art in general, to be a bit more color-blind in their casting. I think it’s important for people of all ethnicities to feel like they can be recognized and to see themselves represented in stories on stage or on screen.

Absolutely. With this cast, I feel like it is going to be so special for Filipino theatermakers. Arielle, this is special for you too, because this is your first time originating a role on Broadway.

Arielle: Yes, this is my first original Broadway cast. It’s my fourth Broadway show, but I’ve always previously replaced [when the show had already opened]. I did originate my first role Off-Broadway in Second Stage’s Between the Lines last year. Ruthie Ann Miles originated this role [Imelda Marcos] for the Off-Broadway production.

How is it feeling for you as you’re going through rehearsals?

Arielle: It’s exciting because I love being able to really make it my own. There’s no pressure to replicate something. I love that there’s a freedom to figure out different stylings that you might want to do, or think about specific moments that you want to deepen the story. You can just go full-out and explore in all the directions that you think will heighten the story.

This also marks a big moment for you too, Lea. You’re returning to the Broadway Theatre — where you made your debut as Kim in Miss Saigon—not just as an actor, but also as a producer. What does this moment represent to you and your artistry?

Lea: The first time I stepped foot in that theatre was 1991. Thirty-two years ago! There were babies who were born at around that time. Like, Liz Callaway gave birth just before previews began.

It’s incredibly exciting to be onboard this project in two capacities and wearing two hats. I find myself switching between the two without even realizing it. On the one hand, I have plenty of experience as an actor, and I’m bringing all of that. But I’m also a novice producer, so there are things that I know that I will have to learn and will have to also get cues from the other actors in seeing what would support them so they can do their best work. I’ve found myself watching other producers and what they do and how they move and how they treat other people. I’ve heard nightmare stories of producers who do not treat actors well and who do not advocate for the artists, and that’s not the kind of producer I want to be.

Returning as a performer, it’s a lot to go from telling another story set in another very painful part of history to another. The Vietnam War certainly was not a shining moment for America. When we performed [Miss Saigon], there were a lot of people who were still reeling from that because it had just ended, about 15 years prior. It was still fresh in a lot of people’s minds. And I think people were questioning, too, why are we creating a musical set in the Vietnam War? It felt like a ludicrous idea. It ended up turning into one of the most beloved musicals. It ran at the Broadway Theatre for almost 10 years, and I think it stopped being about this war and [started being] about the human beings who are affected by the circumstances that war can bring.

Arielle: Had you thought about producing before? Or when they presented this opportunity to you, were you like, “Huh, that’s something I never considered”?

Lea: Yes and no. Over the pandemic, where everybody had to learn everything, to do everything by themselves, I had to be my own producer, wardrobe stylist, makeup artist, lighting designer, sound designer, everything. And I had help from somebody who was experienced in producing! She’s done it for a gazillion years. So I was able to benefit from her experience and her knowledge. I never thought I’d ever be a Broadway producer. I never thought that I would ever have the opportunity. When Clint [Ramos] presented that, it was like, “A-ha! OK. I can add that to my résumé.”

My mom’s been producing my concerts for a gajillion years, so I’ve been watching her, and the choices that she would make…and now here we are on this adventure that hasn’t stopped yet!

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