Taking Imelda To The Big Apple

Kaimuki High grad Ruthie Ann Miles is drawing rave reviews playing Imelda Marcos in Here Lies Love

Actress Ruthie Ann Miles, a 2001 graduate of Kaimuki High School, has a lot to smile about these days.

She’s the star of Here Lies Love, an award-winning musical at The Public Theater in New York that takes audiences through the astonishing journey of Philippines first lady (and former Hawaii resident) Imelda Marcos.


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Ruthie Ann Miles | Beth Kelly photo

It’s a role that has earned Miles a Theatre World Award, positive reviews from New York critics, and features in multiple publications, including a write-up and photo shoot with world-renowned photographer Annie Leibovitz in Vogue.

Here Lies Love is a 90-minute interactive show, with concept and lyrics by David Byrne, and music by Byrne and Fatboy Slim. It opened at The Public in April, and was extended four times, closing July 28 to make room for another show beginning in the fall.

“We tell the story from when Imelda was a young preteen to when they were exiled,” notes Miles. “So, before the shoes were found, before the court hearing and before the devastation was unveiled to the rest of the world.”

Miles has been working on Here Lies Love for the past two years, with the show viewed in “black boxes,” or tiny theaters, with private audiences. It also was shown at Mass MoCA (Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art). When the show ends its run at The Public, Miles says they’re hoping it’ll move on to another stage.

“This definitely has been the highlight of my career,” she says. “I’ve worked in the Broadway community for several years now, doing national tours and working here in New York, but I’ve never been reviewed before. In other shows, I’m kind of in the background, so I’m not worth reviewing, but because I’m in the front now, there were all those nerves attached to it.

“But the hardest part of the show is going through Imelda’s journey every night. I have my own opinions and I would like to tilt the scales one way, but that’s not fair, so I have to be as unbiased and fair as possible.”

Off-stage, Miles also has a lot to celebrate. She and husband Jonathan Blumenstein have a 6-month-old daughter, Abigail.

After high school, Miles left Hawaii to attend Southern Oregon University and then transferred to Palm Beach Atlantic University, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in musical theater. She then moved to New York and graduated from NYU with a master’s in vocal performance.

Home now is Brooklyn, but Miles credits her experiences in Hawaii, particularly at Kaimuki High, where she was involved in the theater and music programs, for helping her discover her passion for the arts. In addition to acting, she plays the flute, ukulele, piano, accordion and some clarinet.

“It makes me sad that slowly music and theater funds are becoming less for public schools, because it made such a difference in my world,” says Miles. “I had a single mom, so extracurricular activities were my life. And the more I keep in touch with my band directors and theater directors, and listening to their programs die, it really saddens me.”

Miles specifically lists her Kaimuki music teacher Darryl Loo, theatre teacher Peggy Anne Siegmund, band teacher Keith Higaki and career counselor Lei Kudo for being instrumental in helping her become the person she is today.

“They encouraged me to look bigger than just the world around me,” she explains. “To challenge myself beyond what I think that I can do.”

Miles was born in Arizona and spent her early years in Korea before moving to Honolulu, where she attended Jefferson and Kaahumanu elementary schools, and Washington Intermediate.

She came back to Hawaii two years ago, and plans to return at the end of this summer or next. Her mom, Esther Wong, also has moved to New York.

“I miss the smell of Hawaii,” says Miles, who is half Korean and half Caucasian. “Every time I step off the airplane, I take a big breath. There’s nothing quite like the smell of Hawaii. It’s not that it’s flowery or salty or mountainy, it just smells fresh.”

For now, this island girl turned city girl is living her dream in the spotlight.

“I have such an encouraging husband and a precious little girl, and my mom is here with us,” she says. “And, of course, I’m also getting to do the job that I dreamed of since I was at Kaimuki.”