Emilio Jacinto would be hard pressed to crack the list of top five Filipino heroes, even with what could be considered as one of the grooviest haircuts of the Philippine Revolution. And with the local run of Hamilton still bouncing around our collective consciousness, is PINGKIAN: Isang Musikal, a new production by CCP’s Tanghalang Pilipino on what could be our own revolutionary wunderkind, the next big historical musical?

Penned by Juan Ekis with music by Ejay Yatco, PINGKIAN: Isang Musikal is Tanghalang Pilipino’s initial offering for their 2024 season under the direction of Jenny Jamora. Transforming the Cultural Center of the Philippines’ Tanghalang Ignacio Gimenez into an island stage with 3D projection mapping technology, PINGKIAN takes the audience through an intimate and immersive journey through one of the darkest moments of our nation’s history. Headlining the cast is Vic Robinson as Emilio Jacinto, together with Gab Pangilinan, Paw Castillo, Kakki Teodoro, and Bituin Escalante.

(Photo Credit: Creative Sense)

The tail end of the war for Philippine independence against Spain was a time of extreme uncertainty. The Katipunan sees itself tired, depleted, and in dire need of moral leadership with the death of its spiritual center Dr. Jose Rizal, the eventual murder of its supreme commander Andres Bonifacio, upon orders of Emilio Aguinaldo. The bulk of the story of PINGKIAN takes place within the context of Emilio Jacinto’s (Robinson) fever dream as he slips in and out of consciousness during a brief period of captivity at the hands of Filipino colonial troops. Being injured, and battling an infection, Jacinto conjures up the phantoms of his past, namely Andres Bonifacio (Castillo), Florencio Reyes (Pangilinan), Dr. Jose Rizal (Teodoro), and his mother Josefa Dizon (Escalante). The narrative takes us through the inspiration of the Ethics and Charter of the revolutionary forces against the Spanish occupation, Jacinto’s reconciliation of the same standard for honor with his role as the grand inquisitor of the Katipunan, the ideological conflict between the radical elements of the armed struggle for Philippine independence and the moderate Dr. Rizal, and finally Jacinto’s play for legacy amidst the eventual defeat of Spain at the hands of American forces, who Jacinto recognizes as a new threat even as they presented themselves as our allies.

Yatco was able to effectively weave together a sweeping modern soundscape that blends Filipino folk and rock influences with a more lyrical musical theater signature to great effect

Being a historical play, there is little by way of novelty in terms of the approach. It’s primarily a love letter to an oft overlooked national hero, with the usual soft-focus lens we’ve been using in their portrayal onstage or on screen for decades. The usual questions are asked by the protagonist: Have I done enough? How will I be remembered? Is it more honorable to die on the battlefield than after living a full and peaceful life? The material, perhaps burdened by the limits of time and venue, couldn’t go deeper than the usual motivations, coming across, at least on its surface, like any average episode of “Bayani”. “I am a hero, this is my duty, I am awesome (naturally). I will save my people.” Cue a grand finale.


What distinguishes PINGKIAN as a production of note, are the choices made in its presentation. Starting with a fresh, punchy, and dynamic score that captures your attention, Yatco was able to effectively weave together a sweeping modern soundscape that blends Filipino folk and rock influences with a more lyrical musical theater signature to great effect. The visceral quality of the vocal performances (particularly Robinson and the rest of the main cast) are truly spellbinding and engaging, and with the minimalist production design, the production leans very heavily on the skills of its actors: They did not disappoint in this regard. The production should be immortalized by way of a cast album, the music is THAT good. 

Gab Pangilinan and Vic Robinson (Photo Credit: Creative Sense)

On the subject of staging, while the intended effect is to make the show as immersive as possible, but perhaps because of the how the music is presented (It is really a true modern Filipino rock opera), it lends itself very well to a more traditional proscenium-style staging, even if the 3D mapping technology is to be retained. Speaking of the projections employed, it is very effective in establishing dates and locations since the plot isn’t quite linear, on top of establishing atmosphere and visual context. One note on its use though, would be the quality and resolution of the images in the projection: Some parts had resolutions so low the artifacts of the image file are magnified and does affect the suspension of disbelief.

The visceral quality of the vocal performances (particularly Robinson and the rest of the main cast) are truly spellbinding and engaging

The finale of Act I was a beautifully directed tableau, where in a brief moment, the world and delirium converges right as the central ideological conflict of Jacinto involving the flexible morality of the Katipunan clashing with his own rigid moral code comes crashing down on him, leading him to make a split second decision. This moment was so delightfully thrilling to witness, it was such a high point in the play that it had the unfortunate effect of making everything that follows slightly underwhelming. Though the most glaring question for me in terms of direction was the existence of multiple endings that somewhat kills the buildup to the actual finale. While there’s no room for another song, the depiction of Jacinto, happily in the arms of his beloved after surviving his delirium, then abruptly collapsing, then dying center stage without any kind of context and within the same rousing song, was clumsily executed, and really could’ve been handled differently.

Viewed in its entirety, the flaws in production are insignificant given the significance of what unfolds onstage. It is difficult for someone to judge the merits of a show that may not be perfect in execution, but is pure in its emotional core and message. PINGKIAN is the kind of show that comes by very rarely, and sadly, all too briefly. A flash of genius in what is otherwise a sea of adaptations, imports, and derivative drivel. It has managed to be a self fulfilling prophecy, when Jacinto asks “Is it enough?”, we can look him in the eye and say with absolute certainty: It is.

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