From the acclaimed team of 'Mabining Mandirigma,' a new rock musical

Aug. 26, 2017
Philippine Daily Inquirer

The same creative team that infused steampunk visual elements into Tanghalang Pilipino's acclaimed "Mabining Mandirigma" is back.

David Ezra as Aurelio Tolentino and Baron Geisler as Tikbalang.

Their original Filipino musical about Apolinario Mabini that grabbed 12 awards at the 2016 Philstage Gawad Buhay, including Outstanding Musical, Direction, Musical Direction, Script, Set Design, Costume Design, and Choreography.

This time, they tackle the life of playwright Aurelio Tolentino in "Aurelio Sedisyoso," which collides the world of rock music with a theater genre popular in the late 1800s and early 1900s: the sarsuwela.

If the name sounds familiar to theatergoers, it's because one of the Cultural Center of the Philippines' theaters is named after him.

In 1901, after Spain had sold the Philippines to the US, the American colonial government passed the Sedition Act, prohibiting any form of advocacy for independence.

Filipino playwrights defiantly broke the law with their "drama simbolico" (symbolic/allegorical drama), now known as the seditious plays. Many of them were imprisoned, including Tolentino.

Lessons of history

In "Aurelio Sedisyoso," librettist Nicanor Tiongson continues his quest to mine the lessons of history for the Filipino present.

"My interest in history is not antiquarian. I'm interested in the past because it's a good way to understand why the Filipino is the way he is today and to learn from past mistakes. I am in history because of the present," he says.

Meanwhile, whereas classic sarsuwela used song genres like kundiman (love songs) and balitaw (lovers' duet), composer Joed Balsamo is using modern instruments and arrangements.
"Rock music's riffs and distortions will be incorporated," he says.

"The setup will be very '90s, with an electric guitar, electric bass and drums. Sarsuwela-type music will still be there, but transformed into rock."

Francis de Veyra of Radioactive Sago Project is on board to do musical arrangements.

Costume designer James Reyes, whose great grandfather is sarsuwela playwright Severino Reyes (aka Lola Basyang), assures that "Aurelio Sedisyoso" will be different from "Mabining Mandirigma."
"We want to surprise and maybe shock the audience. The feel will be rock but deeply rooted in sarsuwela."

As for his costume designs, "Contemporary elements and materials will be used. The look will sometimes be familiar turn-of-the-20th-century, but the focus is more on the attitude of rock."


Classic sarsuwela usually included a love story with a happy and "morally correct" ending. Librettist Tiongson's storyline is a bit more complicated. He credits director Chris Millado for conceptualizing the melding of rock music to the songs he wrote.

"I can't escape history. It's in my bones," he says. "I was born and grew up in an old house in Malolos, in the old Pariancillo where many of the Women of Malolos lived from the 1860s to the 1940s. My great grandmother, Eugenia Tanchanco-Reyes was one of them."

"Barasoain Church, the site of Malolos Congress, and the Malolos cathedral, formerly Emilio Aguinaldo's headquarters, were part of my everyday life."

He focused on Philippine literature, specifically theater, and history for his masteral and doctoral studies at University of the Philippines; and pioneered the study of Philippine traditional dramatic forms like komedya, sinakulo and sarsuwela in the '70s.

He also founded Dulaang Babaylan, which researched, revived or revitalized these forms. "They're not only part of our history, they should be revived and revitalized so that they can become part of our national theater."

Theater debut

David Ezra, who played Emilio Aguinaldo in "Mabining Mandirigma," will play Aurelio Tolentino. The cast includes Norby David, former co-vocalist of Rivermaya; Jing Reyna-Jorge, former vocalist of Sugar Hiccup; and the Actors Company, TP's pool of resident actors.

The project has also attracted TV and film actor Baron Geisler, who waited in line along with everyone else to audition.

Now set to make his theater debut as antagonist Tikbalang, he says, "Ibang klase yung mga castmates ko. There are times at rehearsals when I feel overwhelmed with their overflowing talent. I'm so thankful for my co-actors' and director's support and encouragement."

Chris Millado directs, with sound design by TJ Ramos, choreography by Denisa Reyes, set design by Toym Imao, lighting design by Katsch Catoy and projections by GA Fallarme.

READ previous coverage of Tanghalang Pilipino here.

"Aurelio Sedisyoso" runs Sept. 1-17 at Tanghalang Aurelio Tolentino, Cultural Center of the Philippines. Visit or link