The classic and hit TV drama Tabing Ilog premiered when I was just about to enter pre-school, but thanks to reruns, hearing the opening theme by Barbie’s Cradle still brings me back to bygone days of friendships before the internet, and the simplicity of life when I think of the makeshift tire swinging near the riverbank — the designated hangout spot of Tabing Ilog’s barkada.
Today, Tabing Ilog: The Musical breathes new life into the hit teen drama from the late ’90s and early aughts. Now set in the modern age, we see the cast communicating through messaging apps, and through a language we’ve formed in today’s generation. Its approach may sound like a contrast to the cultural hit then, but the fresher elements make it feel like our own.
The idea was to think of their characters in the light of “who they are gonna be, or what they are gonna be in this day and age, a 2020 version,” shares Lou Yanong who’ll alternate with Teetin Villanueva to play Corrine. While the drama was reimagined to be more relevant to Gen Zs and millennials, director Topper Fabregas says, “They (still) wanted to maintain the essence of the original, but inject new elements.” In the same manner, it’s also a way for the older generation to take a peek at the youth’s struggles. The adaptation gathers a group of TV’s fresh faces, hailing from reality show PBB and girl group MNL48, and theater actors to play the iconic characters of Eds, Rovic, George, Badong, Fonzy, James and Corrine, along with veteran actors Agot Isidro and Jojit Lorenzo taking on the adult characters.
Clad in nostalgia, playwright Jade Castro found success in retaining the charm of the group and their friendship. The ensemble’s movements are also sharp and playful as they move along to the choreography of JM Cabiling and the melodious score and music of Vincent De Jesus.
Brand new eyes: The musical features new faces but maintains the essence of the original drama.
There’s no difficulty in recognizing the struggles of these teenagers as we get confronted by their familiar realities — it kind of felt like being on Twitter with users opening topics of sexuality and toxic masculinity in varying degrees and takes, only this time done in an artistic light. In a stage filled with blue blocks and a bamboo platform as the central meeting point, George (Miah Canton) finds herself in her hometown different from the one in her memory, and with these changes also comes the falling apart of her core group as a child, initially brought about by her best friend, Jerry (Krystal Kane), whom she tagged along from the States. As the musical unfolds, the ensemble doesn’t shy away from weaving in catch phrases many of us have used — cue “Sana all!” — adding to the show’s relatability.
Fonzy (Vino Mabalot) creates a foreboding presence as we watch him get slowly consumed by his unaddressed problems. It’s reflective of how mental health issues are often dealt with — always assuming that nothing’s wrong until something happens. The unsettling atmosphere gets bathed in red light, and the intense mood shifts to something lighter after his hospital scene. The remake falls short in fleshing out the other characters’ backgrounds, leaving some questions unanswered, but it still attempts to inform the audience about something that needs to be heard. Topper says they don’t want to be too preachy about the issues.
The musical reflects the hesitations and uncertainties of growing up into adolescence.
Many could relate when Ely (Franco Ramos), a gay teen, sent the audience into laughter with his candidness while explaining the dynamics of straights and queers as he formed a friendship with Badong (Batit Espiritu). There was intensity coming from Kiara Takahashi resembling the simplicity and affability of Kaye Abad’s role as Eds, highlighting the limited choices some people are faced with because of their circumstances.
There’s a scene where Eds and Rovic (Ian Pangilinan) meet again for their relationship’s closure, and in the background, you hear shouts of protest and see signs hoisted up, screaming for change and to stop the construction of a foreign dam (yup, too real!). It’s a picture of the complexity of the struggles of a collective versus your own choices, but we learn that both are matters deserving of attention in our everyday lives. Given the heaviness of all the themes it wants to tackle, it makes sense to talk about it in a language and with humor close to us, because, at times, what good is protest if it doesn’t get understood by people who need to be awakened?
It’s Tabing Ilog packaged in a musical to reflect the hesitations, uncertainties and confusion that come with growing into adolescence today. It tackles so many topics of discussion, which I wished were given more depth, but the cast makes the staging work with their coordinated leaps and powerful vocals. In the end, it still felt like a celebration of embracing our youth for all that it is.
It’s a commendable start for Teatro Kapamilya’s first production, and worthy to look forward to their next staging. Adaptations can be daunting, but the recurring nostalgia this one induces is a testament to the heights the original show reached. So, as the barkada grapple with their personal challenges, figure out life as they come of age, and understand more of what tabing-ilog means for them as they part ways, one thing’s certain: it will always be the place that brings them together.
Due to the recent COVID-19 outbreak and the government-issued community quarantine, Tabing Ilog The Musical shows are cancelled starting March 13. All shows will be rescheduled to a later date. For more information, follow @tabingilogmusical on Instagram.