Front and Center: Arielle Jacobs To Star In Here Lies Love

MELITTA BAUMEISTER pleated top, pants and shoes. Photographs by Lawrence de Leon.

Arielle Jacobs, the Broadway actress beloved for her Disney Princess roles, takes the stage as a Filipino character for the first time in Here Lies Love.

“I’m so honored to be able to tell this story and to step into the shoes of Imelda Marcos, literally and figuratively,” Arielle Jacobs says over a Zoom call from New York City. In the background, framed posters of the musicals she’s starred in hang on the wall. Prominently displayed is Wicked

“I’ve definitely had more experience with the Disney princess,” she says. “That’s kind of how I have made my mark in the Broadway scene so far.” As Nessarose in Wicked, Jacobs had a turn in act two where she veers to the darker side. “But for the most part, ” she continues. “As Nina in In the Heights, I was the young girl who just wanted to make her family happy. And as Jasmine, and as a lot of the other Disney Princesses that I’ve played, there’s a brightness to it, and a kindness to it. And I think this is just a much more complex character that I’m excited to delve into.”

Complex is just the tip of the iceberg. The musical, written by David Byrne and Fatboy Slim, has been roundly criticized for its interpretation of events. Byrne himself has said that he’d like listeners to reluctantly empathize with his version of Imelda: “Which is not to excuse her, but there are human drives and passions that are played out on a national scale sometimes.” 

There is also the question of: why now? Does the restaging of Here Lies Love play into the myth-making machinery that restored the family to power, or is it a work for art designed to spark debate and discussion, “stimulating conversation about an important part of Filipino history that is currently trying to be revised,” as lead producer and Tony Award-winner Clint Ramos says?

ET OCHS dress, TORY BURCH shoes, TIFFANY & CO. ring, TABAYER earrings and rings.

Jacobs is mindful of the nuances and does not take the responsibility lightly, doing the work of researching as much as she can. She has of course seen both Ramona Diaz’ Imelda and Lauren Greenfield’s The Kingmaker (with Diaz’ documentary being the unacknowledged source of the title of the musical itself).  “It’s important for me to figure out and sort through what is real information and what’s disinformation,” Jacobs says. “I’m going to continue to learn a lot as I go through this process… to figure out if she really believed that she was doing good, and looking at the trajectory of who she became, and the consequences of the choices that she made. It’s hard for me to play a role if I don’t look at every aspect of it.”

One of Jacob’s favorite performances was an off-Broadway, one-woman production called Farhad or the Secret of Being, where she played a young Afghan girl who was raised as a boy to enjoy the privileges of being male, until reaching puberty, when she is forced to transition into a girl to be married off. This underground yet widespread practice is largely unheard of outside Afghanistan. “[The musical] had a very similar effect, where it was shining light on something true that a lot of people didn’t know about. I think Here Lies Love does the same thing,” Jacobs says. “I love when I can do a piece that I know has a much bigger purpose than just putting on a show.”

Jacobs adds that being a part of a production like this encourages them to remember the past and the people who were affected by it. “It is a very transformative and powerful opportunity for everyone involved, and I think will also be the same for everyone who comes to experience the production.”

And what a production it is—Ramos says Here Lies Love on Broadway maintains its DNA as an “exuberant theatrical juggernaut,” with some tweaks to reflect how both the US and Philippines have changed through the intervening 10 years. The orchestra seating of the Broadway Theatre has been torn off and replaced with an extended stage, creating a neon-lit nightclub environment where audience members on the floor will be immersed in the action, a willing flashmob. 

It may look like a party on its mirrorball surface, it may sound like an ABBA album from the tropics with its infectious beats, but something somber thrums beneath the syncopation. In a recent Washington Post interview with the author Gina Apostol, Byrne explains how important the audience is to the show: “They’re the ones excited about the glamour. The audience is completely seduced…”

“I love when I can do a piece that I know has a much bigger purpose than just putting on a show.”

New World

Born in the United States to a Filipino mom and a Jewish dad, Jacobs listened to stories about the Philippines from her grandfather, who was a Philippine Scout during WW2 (and who received a Congressional Gold Medal at the age of 94). Arielle and her brother Adam—who would also become Broadway Disney royalty, starring as Aladdin—grew up performing in local community theaters in Northern California. Jacobs’ first major role was Gabriella in the original stage production of High School Musical, while her most recent part was a reprise of Delilah, a 17-year-old bookworm in the adaptation of Jodi Picoult’s YA novel Between the Lines

Jacobs settled in New York City in 2013, the same year she caught Here Lies Love at the Public Theatre. She was an instant fan, though she never imagined there would be an opportunity to be part of the show, and in fact was surprised to find out it was being restaged, 10 years later. 

“To have a show really go quiet for several years and then come back is not usual. At the same time, this is the best time for a show like this [to come back],” Jacobs says. “The story is really about following leadership and power and oppression in society. And what happens when people as a society can stand up against that, and what happens when people can take control of their own destiny.” 

Director Alex Timbers shares how Jacobs went through a rigorous and lengthy audition process with multiple callbacks, performing six songs from the show and even learning some choreography and staging. “Arielle brings a fierce intelligence, natural charisma, sense of danger, and the ability to exude empathy and warmth in one moment and icy superiority the next,” Timbers says, while Ramos attests that “with her Filipino heritage front and center, we are beyond excited to have Arielle join the cast.” 

The Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Jose Antonio Vargas is co-producing the show alongside Ramos, making it the first Broadway musical with Filipino lead producers. In a statement posted on social media, he remarked that “Filipinos are among the largest immigrant groups in America—and also among the most invisible culturally, despite the two nations’ shared colonial histories… I’m thrilled to help break barriers on what has historically been an exclusive stage: Broadway.”  The show lists a record number of Filipino co-producers, including Lea Salonga, who also stars in a limited run, Jokoy, the Fil-Am comedian and the Oscar and Grammy winning singer-songwriter, H.E.R. 

For Jacobs,’ the achievement is in honor of her family, going generations deep. She shares how her mom cried when she heard the news that her daughter was going to perform her first Filipino role. “She never thought this would be an option,” Jacobs tells me, “to actually be seen for who we are, to not have to pretend to be something else when we’re on stage, or even in life.”

Vogue Philippines: July 2023 Issue


By Audrey Carpio. Photographs by Lawrence De Leon. Fashion Director: Pam Quiñones. Sittings Editor: Anz Hizon. Stylist: Vivian Chuang. Makeup and Hair: Charina Redugerio. Talent: Arielle Jacobs. Photographer’s Assistants: Alejandro Suarez Escobar, LJ Calimbas. Stylist’s Assistant: Marcello Flutie. Makeup and Hair Assistant: Kimberlie Ramones. Shot on location at Vagabond Studios.

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