A NEW lead actor, a fliptop rap number, and gender-bender roles are few of the updated elements in the fourth rerun of the musical on the “sublime paralytic” Apolinario Mabini’s life.

As part of the 50th anniversary celebration of the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP), Tanghalang Pilipino (TP) open’s its 33rd season with the steampunk musical Mabining Mandirigma this month.

According to TP artistic director Fernando “Nanding” Josef, the theater company’s theme for this season is makidigma (to engage in war), with the opening showcase focusing on the revolution against colonialism.

After the Declaration of Independence on June 12, 1898, Apolinario Mabini was appointed by General Emilio Aguinaldo as his chief adviser. Through Mabini’s supervision and Aguinaldo’s leadership, the revolution against Spain and other enemies continued towards the goal of achieving a new Filipino nation.

Written by Nicanor Tiongson, with music and composition by Joed Balsamo, and directed by Chris Millado, the musical was originally staged in 2015 and won 12 Gawad Buhay awards including Outstanding Musical (Original Translation/Adaptation) and Outstanding Ensemble Performance for a Musical.

Joining the cast for this itteration is veteran theater actress Monique Wilson, who is working with TP for the first time since 1995. She takes on the role of Apolinario Mabini.

Nakaka-inspire talaga ang musical na ito sapagkat limited ang ating options as artists na makilahok sa musical na rebolusyonaryo (This musical is really inspiring since artists have limited options to take part in a revolutionary musical),” Ms. Wilson said of her role, during the press conference at the CCP on July 24.

According to CCP artistic director and the show’s director Chris Millado, the role of Mabini began as a technical problem since the production team wanted the character’s voice to be unique from the rest of the cast’s. It was resolved by casting a female actor for the role of the sublime paralytic.

“In Asian tradition, especially in Indonesian theater, all noble characters like priests, nobles, and intellectuals are played by female actors… So, bakit hindi? (So, why not?),” Mr. Millado explained. “It’s even nicer because it also plays out the marginalization of Mabini and how he was feminized by the whole patriarchal setup during that time para lang mapaisantabi ’yung kanyang mga (just to set aside his) propositions that were revolutionary and radical.

“After a few minutes of the show, we found out that audiences were not questioning it at all and totally accepting it,” he added.

Aside from casting a woman in the role of Mabini, the American generals will also be played by female actors, and the Mark Twain character will be played in drag.

Joining Ms. Wilson are Arman Ferrer and David Ezra who alternate in the role of Gen. Emilio Aguinaldo.

Ejay Yatco joins also the artistic team as musical director. “It takes a beloved piece of our history added with a modern twist to resound with Filipino audiences especially the youth,” he was quoted as saying in a press release. “One exciting thing you can expect is a new rap number. So, watch out for that.”

For Ms. Wilson, artists play an important role in awakening audiences to the realities of society.

“I think in our perilous times these days, kailangan talaga natin (we really need) more than ever ng social provocative political theater na magtra-transform ng consciousness,” Ms. Wilson said.

Malaki ang challenge sa aming mga artists ngayon (It is a big challenge for us artists today) to keep upholding that vision, not just for entertainment but to provoke and to awaken, and to incite people to action through theater,” she added.

Mr. Millado noted that Philippine theater is currently at “a good time” considering the recent reruns of various theater productions — there are, for example, currently productions of Huling el Bimbo and Rak of Aegis which are on their 3rd and 7th run, respectively. “[It] gives us a sense of where we are at in terms of original music theater productions,” he said.

Mabining Mandirigma joins this phenomenon that is happening elsewhere,” Mr. Millado added.

Mabining Mandirigma will have performances at the CCP’s Tanghalang Aurelio Tolentino (Little Theater) from Aug. 16 until Sept. 1. Tickets are available at the CCP Box Office, Ticket2me, Bliimo, and all Ticketworld outlets. For details visit the TP Facebook page at http://fb.com/tanghalangpilipino or email tanghalangpilipinomarketing@gmail.com. — Michelle Anne P. Soliman