Monique Wilson wonderfully complements the vocal prowess of Arman Ferrer (rightmost) who plays Emilio Aguinaldo.
Photos by Gian Carlo Vizcarra
Monique Wilson 3rd actress to play Mabini
Leah C. Salterio (The Philippine Star) - August 21, 2019 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — It’s not often that local audiences get to watch a steampunk musical that’s ambitious and, at the same time, sophisticated. Tanghalang Pilipino’s restaging of its award-winning 2015 production, Mabining Mandirigma, successfully captured another batch of theater fans that got to appreciate the company’s groundbreaking work and made it strongly appeal to contemporary audiences. Yes, even to foreigners, surprisingly!

Interestingly, playing the radically creative title role was award-winning theater and film actress, Monique Wilson, the third female performer who stepped into the coveted character to keep true to the production’s non-traditional casting. Apolinario Mabini was originally essayed by Delphine Buencamino, followed by Liesl Batucan.

Serving as the 33rd season opener of Tanghalang Pilipino, Mabining Mandirigma (The Gentle Warrior) spotlights on the life of the Sublime Paralytic starting from 1898, when he served as first foreign minister to President Emilio Aguinaldo up until his death due to cholera in 1903. The musical enviably garnered 12 trophies out of its 13 nominations in the Gawad Buhay Awards in 2015.

Tanghalang Pilipino is the resident theater group of the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP). Every year, the theater company churns out four productions that showcase the talents of its resident actors.

Not seen performing onstage for seven, long years, Monique Wilson didn’t disappoint essaying an important male figure in the country’s history, Apolinario Mabini, in Mabining Mandirigma.

Mabining Mandirigma was first staged in 2015, for the 150th birth anniversary of Mabini. Combining steampunk elements of production design, costume, make-up and lighting, the musical transcends the normal presentations of Tanghalang Pilipino, highly known for its dramatic and historical productions.

The rich libretto of Dr. Nicanor Tiongson and the impressive, original music of Joed Balsamo are clearly unrivaled in Mabining Mandirigma. The modern choreography of Denisa Reyes was also a delight to watch, as the actors displayed amusing dance steps, notably like Nae Nae, Running Man and even Dab, apparently recognized by a lot of people in the audience. “She amplified the dramatic action by devising gestures with the cast,” said director Chris Millado of their choreographer.

At the end of the first act, Aguinaldo, brilliantly played by Arman Ferrer, stood at the center of the stage distinctly holding a selfie stick, as the cast and ensemble gamely did a Boomerang pose. Evidently, that scene connected Mabini’s revolutionary era with the present day, technology-crazy world.

As Aguinaldo, Arman was a powerful presence onstage. He never buckled in his polished delivery of heavy Tagalog lines, more so not in singing, even as he unbelievably reached for those high notes.

This steadily busy tenor is clearly a workhorse. Mabining Mandirigma was the third stage production that we watched Arman onstage this year, following Beautiful: The Carole King Musical and Binondo: A Tsinoy Musical. He also got his own TV spotlight when he sang the National Anthem during the State of the Nation Address (SONA) of President Duterte last month.

Also part of the Tanghalang Pilipino musical are JV Ibesate as Pedro Paterno and Jonathan Tadioan as Felipe Buencamino

Monique wonderfully complemented Arman’s vocal prowess. Not seen performing onstage for seven, long years, the former Miss Saigon star didn’t disappoint essaying an important male character in the country’s history. She delivered challenging songs like Ang Pagbibitiw, her powerful duet with Arman. And when she cried, she was really in tears (our seats were only two rows away from the stage).

JV Ibesate’s Pedro Paterno was totally impressive. He held his own as he sang and performed alongside veterans Jonathan Tadioan as Felipe Buencamino and the Meynard Penalosa as Benito Legarda. JV, a cum laude graduate from the University of the Philippines, later presided in the short Q&A portion after the performance.

At the helm of Mabining Mandirigma was Chris Millado, CCP’s vice president and artistic director, who was proudly wearing a steampunk kilt on the night we watched the musical. “How do we make the past jump out and wrestle with the present? Let’s steampunk it!” Chris boldly declared.

At curtain call, the production was rewarded with a thunderous applause and well-deserved standing ovation. It was a clear testament to the amazing dedication, hard work and commitment of all the performers to their craft.

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