Imelda: Rumour Has It…

Much enamoured of Carlos Celdran’s Intramuros tour last year, I finally got my act together and booked a place on his long-running tour of the Cultural Centre of the Philippine complex: ‘Livin’ La Vida Imelda’. Unfortunately it turned out to be a little disappointing. Carlos was late, his microphone wasn’t working and the tour was wildly oversubscribed, so we struggled to hear him, or even see him (he’s not very tall and was practically mobbed by the tour group).

However, the same cannot be said of the show he put on at the Silverlens Gallery on Friday night. We loved it. Staged in the gallery with a supporting chorus of eight, Carlos delivered his spiel with slick humour, transporting his walking tour to the stage with real panache.

The choice of venue was interesting and effective. The space was small and intimate, the gallery walls decorated with black on white line drawings of Imelda’s Manila Bay constructions effectively created with black electrical tape. Personally I am not a fan of the monstrous 70s architecture that now dominates the reclaimed shoreline of Manila Bay, but according to this script, all credit goes to Imelda for putting the Philippines on the map with the Cultural Centre Complex.

For almost two hours, Celdran delivered an entertaining and fascinating exposé of the rise and fall and the Phoenix-like rise again of Imelda Marcos, intertwining pop culture with the vagaries of post-colonial identity issues, Hollywood indoctrination, the oxymoron of a democratic dictatorship, and the problematic reign of a bipolar first lady.

The chorus provided a very entertaining backdrop to Celdran’s slick monologue. The characters of Ferdinand Marcos and Imelda in lolly pink ballgown with the ubiquitous butterfly sleeves had the audience laughing aloud as they posed in perfect imitation of the originals, who were projected onto a screen to one side of the performance area. And the supporting dancers echoed the Celdran sense of irony to perfection, accompanied by the glories of 70s disco music.

With humour and incorrigible irreverence, Celdran created a gossip-laden, ironic perspective on the life and times of the Philippines’ iconic first lady Imelda Marcos, that often made the locals in the audience gasp at his audacity. Like Princess Diana and Princess Grace, but without the right to a tiara, Imelda was the People’s Princess. Despite her penchant for spending taxpayers money intended for infrastructure and education on a building binge that infamously extruded several large and ugly monuments to Filipino culture, her ‘Hollywood icon’ image was popular with the lesser mortals of the Philippines, even while she was rejected by the aristocracy.

Just like his renowned Intramuros tour, ’Walk This Way’ Celdran’s off-beat, unorthodox monologue is both engaging and cringeworthy, as he exposes the darker side of Imelda’s Hollywood image. And yet, as he admits towards the end of the show, almost everything he had recounted is based on rumour and gossip.  Amusing, but largely apocryphal – or not? We will perhaps never know.

And I am still left trying to ascertain whether Celdran is an ardent admirer or a diabolical detractor of the reigning Queen of Shoes, Imelda Marcos.

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