The controversial story of Andres Bonifacio versus Emilio Aguinaldo had been told and retold in various films. There had been movies that took Bonifacio's side, like "Ang Paglilitis ni Andres Bonifacio’ (2010), ‘Supremo’ (2012) and “Bonifacio: Ang Unang Pangulo“ (2014). There was also one, “El Presidente” (2012), that took Aguinaldo's side of the story.
There had also been a number of theater productions which tackled Bonifacio's life story. Several had actually been musicals that I had personally seen within the past decade, including "Teatro Porvenir" by Dulaang UP, "San Andres B" by Tanghalang Pilipino, "Bonifacio: Isang Sarswela" and its reinterpretation "Supremo Redux" by the Philippine Stagers.
Before all of these was "²Bayani" with music and lyrics of Zosimo Quibilan, Jr. and Khavn de la Cruz, which was first staged in 1996 by Tanghalang Ateneo. This year, Areté in partnership with Tanghalang Ateneo took on this historical musical again, mounted as an online theatrical production through KTX.ph. As it was 26 years ago, the director is Ricardo G. Abad.
After a month of rehearsals, he filmed a live stage performance took place in November 2021 at the stage of Arete's Hyundai Hall, with the cast and crew gathered in a 10-day lock-in arrangement as per quarantine protocols. This was the first theatrical performance on that stage after 18 months of closure following the outbreak of the pandemic.
The subtitle of "²Bayani" is "Isang Rock Operang Alay Kay Andres Bonifacio," but it did not exactly show Bonifacio as a faultless hero. However, one cannot help but feel a strong vibe of Andrew Lloyd Webber's epic "Jesus Christ Superstar" in its rock operatic musical score, the wailing rock vocals it demanded from its singer-actors, and the lyrics of the songs extolling Bonifacio as Messiah (something which he himself dismissed).
The whole musical, told in 2 acts, ran for about 2-1/2 hours. It was bookended by stormy scenes of an elderly Emilio Aguinaldo (Nanding Josef) writing a testimonial to reverse a previous ruling convicting Bonifacio of sedition for which he was imprisoned and put to death. The rest of the play told Bonifacio's whole story -- from the founding of the Katipunan, through the contentious Tejeros Convention to his treacherous execution in Mt. Buntis.
The formidable lead role of Andres Bonifacio was played by 36-year old indie folk rock singer Bullet Dumas, in his theater debut. His signature "raw" vocals connected with the conflicting passions boiling within Bonifacio in those tumultuous times of his life. No neophyte nerves were showing at all as Dumas belted out his technically-difficult, emotionally-punishing songs with the confidence and verve of a stage veteran.
Playing his wife Oryang was Alyana Cabral, whose crystal clear vocals and calm demeanor were comforting amidst the all the hot-headed masculine protestations. Angelo Galang (as the loyal Katipunero Santiago Alvarez) and Norvin delos Santos (as the informant Pedro Giron in full Judas mode) both got to show off soaring rock vocals. Ali Figueroa played Santiago's father Mariano as a duplicitous man, against how he was described in history.
Matt Gador (as the young Emilio Aguinaldo) and MC dela Cruz (as the contemptuous Daniel Tirona) were practically painted as one-dimensional villains. Quite controversially, it was even suggested here that it was a lecherous Aguinaldo himself who committed sexual assault on Oryang. The way they were portrayed was eerily suggestive of current day "villains" as they spread fake news, sowed discontent and undermined and usurped authority.
There was a symbolic female figure called Inangbayan as was commonly done in historical dramas like this. Here she was powerful performed by Larissa Buendia, who sang her heart out to express the suffering of the country.
The color of Tata Tuviera's costumes delineate who among the characters were Magdiwang (striped white) and Magdalo (dark blue). The lighting effects by D Cortezano lent dramatic depth to Adriane Mark E. Ungriano's sets.
Having English subtitles makes it easier to follow the flow of the story and the depth of the lyrics. The cinematography with its close-ups certainly helped focus audience attention on smaller details in the intimate scenes.
However, this filmic treatment makes us miss the immersive experience of actually watching a complex and epic stage production like this unfold with all the simultaneous things happening all over the big stage.
"²Bayani: Isang Rock Operang Alay Kay Andres Bonifacio" is streaming until April 23 via KTX.ph.
This review was originally published in the author's blog, "Fred Said."