A review of ‘Mabining Mandirigma: A Steampunk Musical’
The ticking of the clock. Moving cogwheels and gears. As smoke rises, we are transported back in time, counting down to the historic events of distant past–the Philippine Revolution of 1896, Rizal’s execution, and then the Proclamation of Philippine Independence. The clock becomes a door swung open, and out jumps a woman, dressed as a man in camisa de chino, as she is dressed up and put on a hammock to be revealed as the greatest mind behind the First Philippine Republic. She, or he, was a cripple. The name of her character was none other than Apolinario Mabini. And this world we are introduced in have Filipinos wearing Victorian steampunk costume, where people have selfie sticks for photos, and where leaders of importance sing their arguments and dialogues. It is, after all, a steampunk musical. If the past was strange to us, then it is stranger still in steampunk. And yet, more than anything, it laid bare the similarities of the generation then and now.
The musical I’m describing is none other than Nicanor Tiongson’s Mabining Mandirigma: A Steampunk Musical, a production by the award-winning Tanghalang Pilipino, the resident theater group of the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP). I was privileged to catch its last show on December 18 last year, and made time for it almost as an afterthought. It had its first run way back in 2014, and I was given the opportunity to watch it then. Unfortunately, I had to decline due to more pressing commitments. But as I sat there last December at the Little Theater of CCP, my only regret was watching it only then.
As a riveting performance about Apolinario Mabini and the First Philippine Republic, I won’t exaggerate. It’s the best Filipino musical I’ve seen in recent years. I have watched a lot of Filipino musicals in the past, and many of them were really good. But Mabining Mandirigma was something else altogether. It upped the ante for Filipino musicals in such a way that the viewer is swept into the intrigues of the powers in Malolos at the turn of the century, with great libretto and storyline. I was at the edge of my seat, seeing the musical brought together steampunk elements in design and costume, as well as the dark and foreboding doom seen in the petty disagreements of the Malolos Congress against Mabini.
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