Tanghalang Pilipino’s 26th Season featuring finished productions like Walang Sugat, Walang Kukurap and Stageshow had been grounded in reality so far. It’s not hard to imagine that the characters and their stories really happened in this world that we live in. But for their last offering this season, TP takes us to the realm of fantasy, at the time when gods, beasts and heroes roam the land in their staging of the Bicolano epic Ibalong happening over at the Cultural Center of the Philippines’ Tanghalang Aurelio Tolentino (CCP Little Theater).
Written by playwright Rody Vera, Ibalong shifts from the usual heroic epics by telling the story from the viewpoint of the perceived villain instead of the hero. This musical was also marked by the different approach from director Tuxqs Rutaquio. Gone was the gore that led the audience squirming and shifting uncontrollably in their seats present in his past directorial works like Titus Andronicus and Walang Kukurap. What he presented this time with Ibalong was a visual and musical spectacle that also tugged at one’s soul.
Theater veteran and original Miss Saigon cast member Jenine Desiderio led the cast with her solid performance. Hissing her way with her lines and singing with a more primal style as the half-snake Oryol, Desiderio seduced and slithered yet still managing to make her character sympathetic. Myke Salomon, as Handyong, showed that he’s one of the most underrated vocalists in the music industry as evidenced by a very tender a cappella number towards the end of the play. Cheeno Macaraig, the young Handyong, was the best mover in the whole cast, executing the most difficult stunts without any trace of hesitation. The usually dependable and spectatular May Bayot felt like she had one of her rare off days during the matinee performance that I was able to see as she struggled shifting between registers in one of her solo numbers as Gugurang.
During the first half, Ibalong burst with color through the costumes and puppetry by Leeroy New. The energy was also maintained through the choreography by Alden Lugnasin and stunts by Jerry Ramirez. It was also during this part where the plot intrigued, had most of the tension and had the emotional highs and lows. And then during the second half, when Handyong finally conquered the beast and tamed the wilderness, things got a lot less interesting. The costumes of the humans were in dull earth tones, a fary cry from the vibrant costumes that the cast wore when they were portraying the beasts. I don’t know if this was intentional, but Ibalong started to look bland once it got civilized. I guess that’s what happens to life in general when one attempts to eliminate the so-called beasts all in the name of progress.
A musical of this magnitude must have live music and if ever TP resorted to pre-recorded backing tracks, then this would’ve be a major disappointment. Thankfully, the music composed by Carol Bello and brought to life by Rizalino Reyes and Inkantad added another layer to the whole experience and served to make Ibalong truly epic. Their use of many ethnic instruments, along with electric guitars, and even a violin gave the music an exciting, organic sound that gave a lot of character to the whole production.
The day before Ibalong had its opening night, I was able to drop by backstage and saw firsthand some of the cast and crew working hard a few hours before they had their technical dress rehearsal. Some of the costumes were still receiving a few coats of spray paint while some that I saw at the hall looked ready to go. Some of the actors amused themselves as they read the bulletin boards especially the prepared quotes for the day. When I entered the men’s dressing room, I saw Marco Viaña doing some stitch work on his Rabot costume while Remus Villanueva and Ralph Mateo were having a discussion in their respective dressers. I asked the two how they see themselves now that they're about to complete their first season as members of the Tanghalang Pilipino's Actors Company. The two responded that they've learned a lot so far since they started with Walang Sugat and that they're already excited about the lineup for the upcoming season. Remus Villanueva plays Handyong in certain performances but I still haven't been back to catch any of the shows starring him.
I could’ve stayed a lot longer and saw the technical dress rehearsal, but I didn’t want to spoil myself since it’s a lot better seeing a theatrical production along with an audience. And while I’ve missed the opening night due to other shows happening at the same time, I was still able to catch Ibalong during its matinee show the following day.
Tanghalang Pilipino’s Ibalong is on its final two weekends. Performances resume at the
’s Tanghalang Aurelio Tolentino (CCP Little Theater) this CCP February 22, 2013 and will run until March 3, 2013.