Back in 2013, the PhilStagers staged "Bonifacio: Isang Sarswela" about the life and death of Andres Bonifacio. This year, they revisited the same basic material and repackaged it into a more modern package targeted mainly for the millennial audience and younger. Surveys had shown that many young people were not aware of the actual circumstances by which Bonifacio died. Atty. Vince Tanada, prime mover of the PhilStagers, decided that the story of Bonifacio deserved to be told and retold and that the lessons of history need to be heeded now, when the same culture of violence exists as well.
Bon's father was a soldier who died fighting in Marawi. The little boy was bitter that his father left him alone, and did not think of his death as anything heroic. Instead Bon was obsessed with his favorite superhero Super K, whose video game he played constantly on his tablet. By some miraculous glitch of fate, Bon got sucked into the videogame world where he met Super K face to face.
Aguinaldo (Bautista), Bonifacio (Tanada) and Jacinto (Sadsad)
in their superhero mode
From there, Bon witnessed the election of Bonifacio as Supremo of the Katipunan, the Cry of Balintawak, how the bedraggled Bonifacio's group kept losing their battles while the financially well-supported Aguinaldo's group kept on winning, the scandalous Tejeros Convention of 1897 where Aguinaldo was voted President of the new Republic while Bonifacio was unceremoniously kicked out of position, Bonifacio's arrest in Indang, trial in Naic and brutal murder by hacking in Maragondon.
Bonifacio (Tanada) and Aguinaldo (Bautista)
in a critical confrontation
The innovation of this new play was the portrayal of our historical heroes as superheroes that the youth nowadays are crazy about, with those fantasy color-coded costumes (designed by Emy Tanada) with their respective head gear, weaponry based on the powers they possessed. The costumes of the Aguinaldo group were more elaborate and lavish, with red as its basic theme, to clearly contrast them over humble tank top and shorts, and later bloody rags, of the Bonifacio group.
Tanada used modern street lingo in his script, boldly incorporating techie jargon obviously non-existent in the 1896 scenes. Pipo Cifra reworked his songs from "Bonifacio Isang Sarswela" into modern musical forms like rap, fliptop and hiphop (with updated lyrics by Tanada) to tell the story, with Gerald Magallanes choreographing the dances accordingly. The original sarswela form of music returned during the highly dramatic events in the latter half. The grand finale was a glorious representation of the Philippine flag by the actors and dancers in their red, white and blue costumes.
Oryang (Olmedo) and Andres (Tanada) share sweet nothings.
Writer-director Vince Tanada himself played Andres Bonifacio during the show we watched. His booming tenor was as potent and passionate as ever. His group included Kenneth Sadsad (as Jacinto), Chin Ortega (as Sakay) and Johnrey Rivas (as Procopio Bonifacio), who acted nobly as the good guys. Adelle Ibarrientos was a tall and regal Tandang Sora. Vean Olmedo, as Oryang, was quite good in the acting department. However, when she was singing, it was as if she was not hearing the accompanying music properly and was sadly off in timing and tune during the show we watched. Knowing Ms. Olmedo from previous times I had seen her perform, this issue was just a temporary setback from which she can recover in her future shows.
Miong (Bautista) and Hilaria (Bagtas) sing of love and passion.
Jomar Bautista was clearly relishing his role as Emilio Aguinaldo, with all the fancy costumes he got to wear, as superhero (with flashing red lights and that cool helmet) and as the historical figure (with those rich dress coats). Cherry Bagtas had a riveting stage presence, not only because of her pretty face and ornate costumes, but that beautiful clear soprano voice of hers that sounded great -- even with the imperfect (often distorted) sound system of SM North Cinema 9, which drowned out weaker voices.
The actors playing Aguinaldo's henchmen were fully committed to playing their antagonistic characters, led by OJ Bacor (as a flamboyant Mariano Noriel with an inexplicable Chinese accent), Gerald Magallanes (as Daniel Tirona, who famously protested that Bonifacio was not fit to be Director of the Interior), Chris Lim (as Baldomero Aguinaldo, Emilio's cousin) and Alex Baylon (as Jose Ignacio Paua, ironically Bonifacio's childhood friend).
A Red, White and Blue tribute to the Philippine Flag
The patriotic musical was done in true Stagers' spirit and appeal to the younger audiences. The lesson was clearly stated by Bon (Dean Rafols) at the end, who realized that there are indeed real-life heroes, like Bonifacio and his own father, who sacrifice their lives for our country. Whether the young people in the audience will indeed give up their video games on their gadgets and their obsession with the Marvel and DC comic heroes, that still remains to be seen. However, the story of Bonifacio's controversial death in the hands of fellow Filipinos and its disturbing parallel to current events are clearly delivered.