Miong Shows A Different Side To Our First President. Do We Listen?
Musical Miong opens up the season for Repertory Philippines
On February 15, 2019, Repertory Philippines opened up its 2019 season with the return of Miong, a musical on the early life of late President Emilio Aguinaldo. Originally staged some 20 years ago, the theatrical play presents a different side to the controversial politician. In it, Aguinaldo is heroic and moral, a born leader with a genuine interest in the wellbeing of his people.
But is a society that’s seen the likes of Heneral Luna and GOYO: And Batang Heneral—both of which portray Aguinaldo as a coward that puts his personal interests above the nation’s—going to listen?
Following the life of Aguinaldo from childhood until the declaration of independence, Miong gives us a more intimate look at his origins, personality and thinking. He loses his father, falls in love, is thrust into a position of power he never asked for and yet rises up to the occasion time and time again. Over and over, he is the person his people need; his ideas, his words and his actions rally a frustrated community into eventual unity.
When we said that Miong presents a different side to Aguinaldo, we weren’t kidding.
So how does this side of our first president fair in the world of big screens, big names and international streaming services? Will it convince you that there was more to the man than (unconfirmed) cover-ups and (arguable) selfishness? Perhaps more importantly: Is it worth the watch?
The quick answer is yes. Whatever your feelings about the man who ruled the Philippines more than a century ago, Miong is very much worth the watch. It’s not likely to change your mind about Aguinaldo but it’s enough to make you realize that you might not know all the facts after all.
And in our world, that’s more than enough.
Plot and debate aside, Miong is proof that theater in the Philippines is far from dead. Written and directed by Joy Virata, with music from Ian Monsod and additional lyrics from Freddie Santos, the songs and the production as a whole are practically brilliant. Our favorites by far are San Bartolome and Genoveva, for their sheer lightheartedness and eagerness—both of which somehow paint an entire picture of innocence, national spirit and a simplicity we all too often forget.
The stage itself is most often bare, with the occasional platform to effectively highlight a person, a conversation or to satiate a simple blocking need. Whether intentional or not, this strategy allows the audience to pick up on what needs to be picked up and focus on the matter at hand.
Notable as well is the performance of Tim Pavino as Emilio “Miong” Aguinaldo. It might be his first lead role in a musical, but Repertory Philippines was right in entrusting him with the role. His performance was commanding when necessary and lovable when appropriate. Of course, it helps that he had Noel Rayos (Berong), Cara Barredo (Yayang) and Meynard Peñalosa (Father Blas) to fill the stage.
Originally three hours long, Virata cut this version of Miong down to two hours. As she explained, she wanted it to be more digestible for the millennial audience (because data shows we have a shorter attention span). So we’re missing out on some tunes—one of them a love song—but if you don’t know what you’re missing then there’s no harm done. While the play feels rushed as one song quickly blends into another, there isn’t an empty space where you think something should be housed.
This said, it wouldn’t have hurt if they stretched the ending just a little or gave the audience some time to breathe between the fight scenes. There was little room to be left behind and the transitions left a lot to the imagination.
Do yourself and Philippine Theater a favor and catch Miong while you can. It’s showing all weekends (that’s Friday, Saturday and Sunday) from now until March 10, with ticket prices ranging from P1,000-P1,500.
Art Alexandra Lara