The Wheel and Axle

Deliciously Seditious, Part 2

by on Sep.04, 2017, under Literature, Music & Theater, Society, Travel & Culture

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Continued From:

Deliciously Seditious, Part 1

Aurelio Sedisyoso: A Rock Sarswela, beyond sedition and subversion, is also a grand zarzuela. It is a beautifully-boisterous production reminiscent of those colorful stagings of old, where drama and comedy were fused with music and choreography and, in some cases, cheeky but pointed social criticism. Simultaneously operatic and punk and everything in between, it seamlessly incorporates classic zarzuela accoutrements and traditional Tagalog song and dance with modern trappings such as rap battles, rock riffs, and hip-hop.

The “fusion” stylized costumes – edgy yet vintage, outrageous yet familiar – also mirror this collision of time periods, while the creative use of various media (including a visually fascinating sequence that mimics silent era films through light play and actor movement) delights the senses. The deceptively simple staging hides an elaborate and complex physical structure, much like how the bright and shiny show can reveal dark and disturbing undertones that can make you question the socio-political norms of the past, the present, and the future.

And just as Aurelio Tolentino wrote “symbolic dramas,” so too does his biography take the form of “symbolic drama.” Beyond Tikbalang, the narrative is full of representations that transcend the literal and which bring you to a different level of understanding of what made this man tick. While it may be anvilicious at times, and I do feel the first act was too long and could have been trimmed down, over-all the story works wonderfully.

The cast is superb. And several of them play their own instruments live in some songs, which is really cool. That, and the rapping.

David Ezra portrays Aurelio himself. Being the lead star of a musical named after the character, David has the challenge of being charismatic and strong enough to carry the narrative on his shoulders. He is very much up to the task, having solid acting chops and a versatile voice.

Jonathan Tadioan portrays Tikbalang. It’s said that a hero is only as good as his villain, and while Tikbalang is a personification of the American regime’s various faces, this villain still requires a certain amount of depth and complexity. Jonathan delivers a very good performance in this respect. (Note that he is actually the alternate for Baron Geisler, who gets top billing but for reasons unknown to us didn’t perform on opening night.)

Remus Villanueva as Macario Sakay (with a siding of Andres Bonifacio), JV Ibesate as Dominador Gomez, and Norby David (formerly of Rivermaya and currently with Overtone) as Manuel Quezon form a trio of historical leaders who, despite being rendered in broad strokes as characters, are well-realized by the respective performers. Remus, in particular, shows a very good level of polish in his performance and is actually quite a triple threat.

Hazel Maranan and Kakki Teodoro portray Aurelio’s two wives, Saling and Naty. Each of them get to be the leading lady of Act 1 and Act 2, respectively, and both share very good chemistry with David, which is essential given their relevance to his entire arc. They also are able to give much-needed intimacy and sentiment in their scenes, and both are talented singers.

Paw Castillo as Didoy, Blanche Buhia as Diday, and Aldo Vencilao as Dodong all shine in their respective sub-plots, providing a great balance of drama and naughtiness in their performance that helps give the story added texture.

However, the true scene-stealers are Sasa Cabalquinto as Tikbalang’s sidekick Hunyango and Phi Palmos as Aurelio’s daughter Crising. They add not just an extra layer of humor but also an extra layer of depth to the scenes they are in.

Chris Millado’s direction is on-point at all times as the production came together so very well. Despite some hitches with the sound (it was opening night when I watched it), the musical was still top-notch, and it is to Chris’ credit that he was able to pull all these disparate elements into an utter pleasure of an experience, both artistically and intellectually.

Aurelio Sedisyoso: A Rock Sarswela is an ambitious project, one that is exhilirating, disturbing, crushing, and uplifting all at the same time. It raises philosophical questions about freedom and adaptation, the nature of heroism, the value or futility of principles, the relevance of art, and more. Yet it weaves all of these into a strong and entertaining tapestry that is absolutely worth your time.

Catch it if you can. It runs every weekend until September 17th. You won’t regret it.

More of my encounters with the cast and crew:

With Norby David as Manuel Quezon

With Sasa Cabalquinto as the scene-stealing Hunyango

With Phi Palmos as the equally scene-stealing Crising

With Direk Chris Millado


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