We watched the press preview of the musical adaptation of the 90’s TV hit. Here is our review of Tabing Ilog The Musical at ABS-CBN’s Dolphy Theater.

One of the cornerstones of creating the atmosphere necessary to immerse an audience in a show is to hook them in through time-tested emotional touchpoints: some shows choose to physically engage its audience through immersive set design, some shows use their score to transport us to another time and place, and some choose to appeal to audiences using enduring memories to manufacture a feeling, a sense of nostalgia. There are very few things that call back to our childhood as profoundly as the shows we watched growing up. Before the age of social media, the primary content that we consumed came from TV, and it was our generation that was the first to be exposed to the golden age of TV programming. Back then, we were captivated by such classics as the original run of Tabing-Ilog, a star vehicle for the likes of Paula Peralejo, John Lloyd Cruz, Patrick Garcia, Jodi Sta. Maria, Paolo Contis, Desiree del Valle, Baron Geisler, and Kaye Abad, produced and broadcast by ABS-CBN.

It therefore comes as no surprise that this iconic television series that captured the hearts and minds of countless members of our generation makes a triumphant return as a new musical with music from Vincent De Jesus, book by Jade Castro, and choreography by JM Cabiling; the maiden show out of the new theatrical production wing of ABS-CBN, Kapamilya Theater. In reimagining the TV show for the stage, De Jesus masterfully weaves his score through the lives of each of the characters, leading even the most casual audience member into the world shared by these friends, even if they haven’t seen an episode of the source material.

This new production, helmed by director Topper Fabregas, breathes new life to the story in glorious Technicolor. As we are introduced to the ensemble cast, we are immediately drawn into their lives: The seemingly perfect couple Rovic and Eds, (played by Ian Pangilinan and Kiara Takahashi, respectively), the loyal and earnest Badong (Batit Espiritu), the slightly neurotic James (Jem Macatuno), the borderline nihilistic Fonzy, and his kind-hearted sister, Corrine (Vino Mabalot, Teetin Villanueva), the Balikbayan George (Miah Canton) and her best friend Jerry (Krystal Kane), the sweet and hilarious Ely (Franco Ramos), and the young Sammy (Noel Comia). All adult roles in the show are played to great pathos and humour by Agot Isidro and Jojit Lorenzo.

Kiara Takahashi as Eds

The show opens with George wistfully remembering the happy days of her childhood with her friends, growing up and playing by the banks of the river in a small town in Quezon. She is set to go back home after spending some time in the US, with Jerry, her Fil-American best friend, in tow. She immediately realizes that the town has changed a great deal after what seems to be such a short time. She finds her old gang still more or less the same after she left, but as events unfold, it quickly becomes apparent that this is no longer the case. As Jerry stirs some drama between George’s friends, Fonzy’s emotional problems take root and manifests as an unhealthy affinity for drink and general bad behavior. Ultimately, this drives him to a dark place, just as the group dissolves. But predictably, like any close-knit group, they eventually find their way back to that serene patch of happiness where they mend their broken bonds and come to support each other. It’s a romantic resolution that only celluloid could previously deliver.

Vino Mabalot as Fonzy

It was a treat to witness the layered performances of Miah Canton and Teetin Villanueva. Canton perfectly captures that almost diaphanous delicateness without sacrificing clarity, a perfect analogy for the kind of fragile rose-tinted memories she had forged in her mind, that eventually served her well in that single-minded determination to rebuild their friendship. Teetin Villanueva on the other hand, had a very clear, very grounded, voice; that is used to hide a potentially explosive vulnerability. Vino Mabalot delivers an impressive performance in what could be one of the most complicated roles in the show. He entertains, but with a delicious underlying tension that drives his intense presence. Krystal Kane is deviously brilliant as the happy homewrecker every Pinoy fan would love to hate, but there is depth and sympathy for her character that shines through in the latter part of the show. Of particular note is the performance of Franco Ramos as Ely, a thoroughly hilarious self-possessed character who hands-down, steals every scene he’s in (I swear, it should be a crime), and brings much needed levity.

Taken as a whole, Tabing Ilog the Musical is a valiant effort by Kapamilya Theater to try and transform one of the most beloved properties in their portfolio. It may run a bit too long, though. Some careful edits to tighten the book might be in order: this would allow for more time to flesh out characters, and tie up some plot threads. These plot threads that were introduced in the second act of the show cause some slight concerns: it makes the show feel unfinished and leaves the audience feeling unfulfilled by an otherwise moving and beautiful finale.

All things considered, it was a good show. It ticks off all the emotional boxes which would allow it to be a solid take-off point for future productions. It fills one with heaps of nostalgia, and that’s a powerful thing. Therein lies the point even of the original show. It is first and foremost a recollection, a way of standing by the banks of that nameless river, and watch life, in all its infinite complexity, flow by.

“Tabing-Ilog: The Musical” will run from March 7, 2020 to April 26, 2020 at the ABS-CBN Dolphy Theater at the ABS-CBN Compound in Quezon City. Tickets available through KTX.

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