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Mabining Mandirigma: A Historic, Patriotic And Ecstatic Musical

Aguinaldo Vs. Mabini. David Esra and Liesl Batucan. (photo by Kurt Copon)
The 29th Season of Tanghalang Pilipino was opened and will be closed by the restaging of the critically acclaimed and commercially successful new and steampunk musical, Nicanor Tiongson’s  “ Mabining Mandirigma.”  Tiongson currently the Professor Emeritus at the University Of The Philippines Film Institute of the College of Mass Communication and has served from 1986 to 1994 as Vice President and Artistic Director of the Cultural Center of the Philippines, is a critic and an artistic writer who has written plays in full-length like the historical sarsuwelas Pilipinas Circa 1907 and Basilia Ng Malolos and a musical adaptation of the epic Labaw Donggon.  In writing the full length musical Mabining Mandirigma, Tiongson as expected wrote in a remarkable and extraordinary manner, with so much deep, intense and emphasis. His critical, creative and rhetoric style were very evident in the lines being delivered and in the lyrics being sung onstage. Another libretto worth remembering.

This steampunk musical narrates the story of Apolinario Mabini y Maranan, a native of Tanauan, Batangas who lost his both legs due to polio and later died at the age of 38.  Mabini  as we remember played a central, climactic, critical and crucial role in establishing the First Philippine Republic. Tagged as the “ Brain Of Revolution “ during the Spanish and American colonization era,  was a patriotic man, lawyer, educator and was once a legal and constitutional adviser to the Revolutionary Government during Emilio Aguinaldo’s presidency. 
Photo by Kurt Copon (Tanghalang Pilipino)
This musical follows the life of Mabini from his childhood until his death on May 13, 1903 and tells the important chapters in the history of Philippine Government. Act 1 was when Mabini presented his plans and visions to Aguinaldo for the second phase of the revolution against the Spaniards. It was in this time that he was appointed as Chief Adviser in the hopes that he and Aguinaldo will finish the revolution. When the Americans invaded Intramuros, the recently formed congress was then transferred to Malolos only to find out another threat, in the hands of some illustrado members of the congress helmed by Pedro Paterno and Felipe Buencamino to gain power and control the institutions of the government. One important scene was the projection of Mabini’s notable works, “ El Verdadero Decalogo “ and Programa Constitucional dela Republica Filipina, known to be the outline and the reason of the existence of Malolos Constituion.

Act 2 was when Mabini became the first Prime Minister of the Philippines. Jealousy, bribery and innuendos still continues specifically with Paterno, from fearing that he might be removed from his position to Antonio Luna  and convincing Aguinaldo what the Americans has to offer. Mabini interrogated with the illustrados and advised Aguinaldo that he’s still the president and must act and decide. Aguinaldo not listening and siding with Paterno, led to the assassination of Luna. Mabini then resigned and Paterno replaced him. It didn’t stop Mabini from unmasking the real intentions of the Americans. In December of 1899, Mabini was then captured in Nueva Ecija and held imprisoned at Intramuros.  His rejection of the amnesty from General MacArthur was the reason of his expatriation to Guam for two years.  Upon his return from Guam, he gave his time to organize Partido Nacionalista and roughly three months after his return, he died of cholera.  

Directing Tiongson’s full-text musical is Chris Millado, current Artistic Director of the Cultural Center and my previous boss back when I was still working at the Performing Arts Department. He’s an award winning theater director who received critically acclaimed reviews from both the patrons and critics in his craftsmanship over the years. The likes of August Osage County, Musikal! A Musical Celebration of CCP’s  45th, Stageshow, ZsaZsa Zaturnnah Ze Muzikal, Insiang, Macbeth and Camino Real . His production of Musikal was the last large production I saw with Lea Salonga and Gerard Salonga conducting at the pit.  His latest masterpiece was a hit that’s why a restaging was happening. The patrons want something more just like Mabining Mandirigma with your creative style. 
(Kurt Copon, Tanghalang Pilipino)
What’s make this musical unique and sensational was the female actor playing in the title role Mabini .  Liesl Batucan, current Associate Artistic Director of Tanghalang Pilipino and an award winning theater actress, whatever you name it. Everything is under on her roof.  I grew up watching this phenomenal actress in musicals staged by the Repertory Philippines and she never fails to amaze me and to want something more from all of her performances. On playing the title male role, she actually resembles the heroic revolutionary leader.  Whoever got the eye in casting her, made a statement in the world of theater? Credit also goes to Hazel Maranan another female actor as Mabini understudy. 

Antonio Rey Manuel Fernandez Ferrer playing the role of Aguinaldo is a young actor packed with a powerful voice was a former member of Kilyawan Boy’s Choir, a Madrigal et al choir who won the Championship at the 2008 World Choir Games A Capella Category at Gaz, Australia.  Theater credit includes Tanghalang Ateneo’s production of Walang Sugat in 2010 as Tenyong and the same role he reprised at Tanghalang Pilipino’s production of Walang Sugat in 2012 directed by Carlos Siguion-Reyna.  I first saw Arman playing the role of Genie in the first staging of Disney in Concert: Tale As Old As Time production of The ABS-CBN Philharmonic Orchestra. Fresh from the repeat performance of the same concert, I got to catch his powerful and impressive performance in Mabining Mandirigma.  I was thrilled and entertained to catch him playing the Genie, but in Mabining Mandirigma, his different vocal techniques and interpretation was showcased. I’m thinking what’s gonna be his next role? That’s something for us to look for.  Playing the role of Felipe Buencamino is Jonathan Tadioan, an eight time Philstage Gawad Buhay Award nominee, is currently a member of Tanghalang Pilipino Actors Company and was a former FEU Theater Guild member.  He has done multiple plays from classic and contemporary to straight and musical, which he received rave reviews. Great to see that he’s into musical now and he’s still continuing his craft and passion.
The Cast of Mabining Mandirigma. (Kurt Copon, Tanghalang Pilipino)
Tanghalang Pilipino’s Mabining Mandirigma, a musical that will open your heart and mind in discovering our history and how a paralytic and patriotic man changed and formed the revolutionary government of the Philippines?  This masterpiece written by Nicanor Tiongson and with music by  Joed Balsamo reminds us during the era of Spanish invasion and American colonization and the status quo, jealousy, bribery and hypocrisy still exists in Philippine Government. Great actors, beautiful music and intense lines and lyrics this musical will surprise you.   Catch the repeat performance at the CCP Tanghalang Aurelio Tolentino on December 2 – 18, 2016 with performances at 3pm and 8pm. Ticket prices: 1,000 and 1,500.

Words/Text by Gilbert "Kim" Sancha 
Photos: Kurt Copon, Tanghalang Pilipino

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