Kabesang Tales is one of the most notable characters in Jose Rizal’s novel “El Filibusterismo.” His full name is Telesforo Juan De Dios, a farmer by trade, and father to the siblings Huli and Tano. He was able to gain his independence after earning hundreds of pesos, a valuable sum at that time.
He is the symbolism of the false comfort that the Spaniards offered to Filipinos during that era, which they took away anytime they want. The greed of the friars cost him his
relationship with his family and drove him to a dark path. After having lost everything due to a series of unfortunate events, he eventually joined the rebels and murdered not only Spaniards but Filipinos as well, as long as he thinks the latter are allied with the Spaniards. The change in his character parallels that of Simoun, who was also driven by misery and vengeance. A major cruz in his storyline was his fateful encounter with Simoun.
The first full-length play about Kabesang Tales was written by Paul Dumol in 1975 and presented by the Philippine Educational Theater Association (PETA) that same year at the Rajah Sulayman Theater. This, however, is a musical. It’s entitled Kabesang Tales: Isang Rap en Rol Musical. The play shows how Kabesang Tales is mirrored in our present times by injecting modern genres of music, rock and rap, the latter presented mostly in the fliptop style. There was an exciting premise in the musical from the title alone. The well-acted and mostly well-sung production did have the musical numbers in the rap and rock genre among its most enjoyable appendages. However, the musical’s shortcoming was in its Act 1. wherein Kabesang Tales repeatedly uttering “sa akin ang lupang ito” like a pissed off Asiong Salonga.
Arcilla can certainly sing; whether it’s the direction or his characterization that made his character barely two-dimensional, that I cannot determine. The point of the whole Act 1, (the events which drove Kabesang Tales to become a rebel), can actually be summed up in a 15-minute musical number, not a roughly one-a-half hour compilation of different scenes which we know from our secondary school reading requirements. Speaking of 15 minutes, the play only started engaging me in the last 15 minutes of Act 1, which could have been a great premise for the whole musical: Tales the Vigilante. Instead, the script chose to shine spotlight equally on other characters like Huli, Tano, and Simoun. I know that this is a touring musical whose primary target market are the students, but I did not see the need for making Basilio and Huli’s courting scene that long, save for inciting ‘kilig’ from the audience.
My favorite performances from the musical were those by Terrence Guillermo (Kadyo), Kevin Posadas (Tano), Trish Ocampo (Diwata), and Jimson Buenagua (Padre Clemente/Kabo). They were able to deliver full-fleshed out characters and most were great, if not spectacular, in their solo numbers. Ocampo’s vocal range and execution is so perfect that it deserves its own show. I know Guillermo is in another role but I’d love to see him play out Tales since I can see he is a very capable actor and singer. The music was great in some parts. I liked the pieces with multiple accompaniments since those gave the modern flavor. The costumes and the set work well with each other and captured the essence of the Spanish era. The lights were pretty simple, mostly alternating between greenish, reddish, and bluish, hues.
The choreography was pretty challenging, since it has parts where the dancers have to do very quick steps including leaps and mid-air but they were able to execute it perfectly. What could be improved though is the quality of the speakers and the lapel control, since there were two incidents in the performance when the actors were backstage and they could be heard from the speakers either trying to find something or rehearsing their piece for an upcoming scene. The musical was produced by Red Lantern Production from a script penned by Ricky Lee. The other artistic minds behind the production are Alejandro ‘Bong’ Ramos (direction), Jeffrey Hernandez (music), Doy Ongleo (music), Matthew Manalaysay (choreography), Joseph Matheu (Lights), Arnel Paguyo (set design), and Jojo Driz (costume design).
The musical stars John Arcilla (Kabesang Tales) and Kevin Posadas (Tano). Dio Marco, Terrence Guillermo, and Myck Mondejar alternate in the role of Karyo. Had this musical focused more on Tales and Tano’s succession of the former’s vigilantism, this would have been more interesting and groundbreaking.