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The cast and artistic team of Tanghalang Pilipino’s (TP) "Aurelio Sedisyoso," directed by Chris Millado (far right) and topbilled by David Ezra (third row, second from right) and Baron Geisler (second row, with dark shades), during the musical’s press conference at the Cultural Center of the Philippines’ (CCP) Main Theater Lobby on August 16, 2017. (Photo: Alvin I. Dacanay)
The cast and artistic team of Tanghalang Pilipino’s (TP) "Aurelio Sedisyoso," directed by Chris Millado (far right) and topbilled by David Ezra (third row, second from right) and Baron Geisler (second row, with dark shades), during the musical’s press conference at the Cultural Center of the Philippines’ (CCP) Main Theater Lobby on August 16, 2017. (Photo: Alvin I. Dacanay)

Musicals that highlight history and humanity

Alvin Dacanay Before I ForgetThis weekend, two musicals by two different theater companies are set to open. On paper, they could not be more different: one revolves around a distinguished playwright and patriot at the turn of the last century; the other, a thirtysomething professional “troll,” one of many who pollute our social-media accounts with their toxic posts. But beneath their obvious differences, they share a preoccupation with history and an emphasis on remembering its lessons.

The first is Tanghalang Pilipino’s (TP) 31st theater-season opener Aurelio Sedisyoso: A Rock Sarswela, which will be staged in the theater named after its protagonist at the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) starting Friday. It follows the last several years of the life of Aurelio V. Tolentino, whose 150th birth anniversary is commemorated this year. He’s best known for writing the allegorical drama Kahapon, Ngayon at Bukas, for which he was arrested and imprisoned for sedition and rebellion by the American colonizers in 1903.

What’s not so well-known is the fact he founded the nationalistic theater company Teatro Porvenir (“theater of tomorrow”) with Andres Bonifacio and Macario Sakay, and his being a signatory of the Philippine Declaration of Independence at Kawit town, Cavite province, on June 12, 1898.

Aurelio Sedisyoso is headlined by pop/opera singer David Ezra in the title role and film and television actor Baron Geisler in his stage debut. During the musical’s press conference on August 16, the controversial performer—who portrays the Tikbalang/Amerikano, who takes on the different characters representing the US insular government—confessed that working on Aurelio Sedisyoso, for which he auditioned twice, made him more nervous than his much-publicized fight with actor and mixed-martial arts fighter Kiko Matos last year.

Geisler also admitted being awed and humbled by his co-stars—which include members of TP’s Actors Company, former Rivermaya co-vocalist Norby David, and former Sugar Hiccup frontwoman Jing Reyna-Jorge—calling them “great” and “amazing.”

Consequently, he claimed he’s learning as much as he could during rehearsals and remained focused and steadfast in his commitment to his role and the production, which is handled by the same creative team that brought TP’s most recent musical, the steampunk-informed Mabining Mandirigma, onstage two years ago.

That team is, of course, led by director Chris Millado and librettist-lyricist Dr. Nicanor Tiongson. With them are dramaturg Manny Pambid, composer and arranger Joed Balsamo, choreographer Denisa Reyes, set designer Toym Imao, costume designer James Reyes, sound designer TJ Ramos, lighting designer Katsch Catoy, and projection designer G.A. Fallarme.

Considering that Mabining Mandirigma—which is most notable for casting actresses Delphine Buencamino and, later, Liesl Batucan, as the Sublime Paralytic—enjoyed a few runs and earned a dozen trophies, including one for outstanding musical, at the 8th Philstage Gawad Buhay last year, there’s a good chance that Aurelio Sedisyoso would match that musical’s success, if not surpass it.

The cast and creative team of the Philippine Educational Theater Association’s (Peta) "A Game of Trolls: A Martial Law Musical" pose with representatives from the National Historical Commission of the Philippines (NHCP), Bantayog ng mga Bayani Foundation, and Dakila: Philippine Collective for Modern Heroism, during the musical’s press conference at the Peta Theater Center on August 22, 2017. (Photo: Alvin I. Dacanay)
The cast and creative team of the Philippine Educational Theater Association’s (Peta) “A Game of Trolls: A Martial Law Musical” pose with representatives from
the National Historical Commission of the Philippines (NHCP), Bantayog ng mga Bayani Foundation, and Dakila: Philippine Collective for Modern Heroism, during the musical’s press conference at the Peta Theater Center on August 22, 2017. (Photo: Alvin I. Dacanay)

Who the Heck

A day after Aurelio Sedisyoso opens, the Philippine Educational Theater Association’s (Peta) latest musical, the wittily titled A Game of Trolls: A Martial Law Musical—an obvious play on the hit Home Box Office series Game of Thrones—formally begins its run at the Peta Theater Center in Quezon City, after it was briefly mounted in April.

Produced with support from the National Historical Commission of the Philippines (NHCP), the Bantayog ng mga Bayani Foundation, and Dakila: Philippine Collective for Modern Heroism, A Game of Trolls focuses on Hector, nicknamed Heck (Myke Salomon and TJ Valderama), whom Peta described as “a troll whose indifference makes him the perfect keyboard warrior for Bimbam (Vince Lim), the manager of a ‘troll center’ that runs an online pro-martial law campaign.”

“His lack of attachment to any belief can be used to make him unleash callous words to anyone who comments against the Martial Law days,” the company said.

This prompts the ghosts of prominent Martial Law victims—Bobby dela Paz (Gilbert Onida), Eman Lacaba (John Moran and Juan Miguel Severo), Ed Jopson (Norbs Portales), Macli-ing Dulag (Roi Calilong and Jasper Jimenez), and Sis. Mariani Dimaranan (Ada Tayao)—to haunt him from the internet cloud, fearful of being erased as people slowly forget them.

Heck’s encounters with them compels him to reflect on his own beliefs and his relationship with his mother Tere (Upeng Galang-Fernandez and Gail Guanlao-Billones), an activist who was detained and tortured during Martin Law.

Created by the same trio who brought Care Divas to audiences—playwright Liza C. Magtoto, director Maribel Legarda, and composer-lyricist-musical director Vincent A. de Jesus—A Game of Trolls marks Peta’s return to what it arguably does best: mounting protest and advocacy plays and musicals with much heart and soul—and with some welcome humor.

“As artists, we in Peta remain steadfast in our mission to use the arts to reflect peoples’ stories and examine
our history so we can find meaning in chaos, make sense of our realities and have vision amid doubt and cynicism,” Peta Executive Director Beng Santos-Cabangon said in a statement.

“It is important to remember and learn from the past. Otherwise, we end up repeating the same mistakes today. The sacrifices made by many activist-heroes who fought for the democracy and freedom that we all now enjoy should be remembered. By remembering, we understand that no amount of ‘progress’ can justify abuses against humanity. By remembering, we cherish and safeguard our freedom and human rights,” she added.

The staging of these two musicals, especially A Game of Trolls, is significant and timely. They come at a time when many of us are infuriated with innocent, powerless people being gunned down as part of the government’s war on illegal drugs, and dismayed by stories of rights being violated, territories being brazenly intruded on, and officials still abusing their authority. They come at a time that reminds some of us of the 1970s and early 1980s.

Aurelio Sedisyoso and A Game of Trolls should resonate with theatergoers in a month that again reminds us that we need to truly learn and embody the painful lessons of our past, both distant and recent. The alternative is much worse and, considering the collective trauma we already sustained, it’s one that we can no longer afford to take.

Aurelio Sedisyoso runs until September 17, while A Game of Trolls runs until late September. For tickets and other information, visit www.culturalcenter.gov.ph (for Aurelio Sedisyoso) and www.petatheater.org (for A Game of Trolls), or www.ticketworld.com.ph.

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