Age & Hometown: 30; Honolulu, Hawaii
Current Role: Filipina First Lady Imelda Marcos, whose catapult to stardom and subsequent fall into infamy are chronicled in the Public Theater’s groundbreaking new musical Here Lies Love.
Monster of a Show: When audience members dance around the stage in Here Lies Love, there’s one person they can’t take their eyes off of—literally. “You can’t drop your character for a moment because someone is always looking,” explains Miles, who is winning acclaim for her first leading role (“I’ve never been reviewed!”) in the experimental musical by Fatboy Slim, David Byrne and director Alex Timbers. “I call it a monster of a show because it has a life of its own.” Miles was initially hesitant to take on the star-making role of the Filipina First Lady because of her Korean background, but she eventually relented. “After the first workshop, I just fell in love and decided, I can play this person.” After all, she has at least one thing in common with the real-life Marcos: “Believe it or not, I used to be obsessed with shoes,” Miles says with a laugh. “I have maybe 50 pairs…until I moved to New York, when I realized I couldn’t walk anywhere in any of them.”
Music with Mom: Miles moved to America from Korea when she was in elementary school, “hopping around for a bit” before settling in Hawaii. An aspiring music teacher, she played flute and piano in high school, crediting her “tiger mom,” a church pianist, for instilling a love of music. “Growing up, it was just me and my mom, so we would play games where we’d listen to the radio and sing harmonies to each other,” recalls Miles, who now counts Lea Salonga and Sutton Foster among her musical inspirations. She also discovered musical theater in high school, culminating in what she calls the game-changing role of showgirl Linda Low in Flower Drum Song. “That was my big ‘I’ve got the stage to myself, I’m singing and dancing, I really enjoy what I’m doing’ [experience],” she says. “That was the moment.”
The Future of Musicals: All the buzz around Here Lies Love’s innovative staging—in which the audience is on its feet for 90 minutes, engaging with the actors—is not lost on Miles, who believes that the show “just might be” the future of theater. “The generation we live in, we’re constantly entertained—we turn our heads this way and there’s something else to entertain us,” she explains. “Sitting down in one seat for two hours may not be enough anymore.” One critic who isn’t chatting Miles’ ear off about Here Lies Love is her 17-week-old daughter. “She’s still very young, but she recognizes me when I come in with my caterpillar eyelashes and stage makeup,” says the actress, adding that she can't wait to pass her love of music on to a third generation. “It calms you down, it energizes you—music transformed my childhood and I hope it will do that for her as well.”