Lances and spears are swinging wildly in the air while actors in colorful costumes do somersaults and sing. Nope, this isn't a circus—it's Tanghalang Pilipino's production of Mulan.
Based on the famous Chinese poem The Ballad of Mulan, this stage version tells of the exciting adventures of Hua Mulan, the young woman who joined an all-male army to fight for the honor of her family and her country.
For 90 minutes, audiences are transported into the world of ancient China, when war was the end all and be all of society and women were not allowed to become soldiers. The play is perfect for children because of the action sequences, humor and colorful costumes and make up. Movements are exaggerated to accompany the dialogue and make it clearer for kids to understand.
Director Dennis Marasigan proudly proclaims that "Our whole cast went through a month's worth of wushu training. The Philippine Wushu Federation really made them work hard for all of the difficult stunts and movements they had to do." Marasigan explains that it's one of the reasons why he loves directing theater. "You're working with full-time actors who are extremely well trained and dedicated to their craft."
Marasigan recently won a Cinemalaya award for Best Screenplay for his film Tukso. It's doubly sweeter for him because he co-wrote it with his daughter Mara. Tukso will be shown in IndieSine, Robinsons Galleria, from September 21-28.
Most of the main actors—Mayen Estañero (Mulan), Chrome Coscio (Koronel Yu), Marjorie Lorico (Empress Wang Mu), Jonathan Tadioan (Jade Emperor), and Sugus Legaspi (Hua Hu)—were also the cast for the recently concluded Pilipinas Circa 1907.
Marasigan continues, "Can you imagine having to perform nonstop without intervals? The play runs for 90 minutes with action sequences. It takes a tremendous amount of stamina to do it."
The mascot-like costumes for Empress Wang Mu and the Jade Emperor have a foot-high headdress. Actors have a slot in the chest to peek out of and deliver their lines. The sheer weight and bulk of the costume makes it difficult to perform. Add to it the exaggerated hand and arm gestures they have to do.
"The characters based on Rody Vera's script is that they are larger than life, almost god-like," explains production designer Gino Gonzalez. "We had to produce a costume that reflected who they are. In fact, I had to coordinate with choreographer Denisa Reyes and find out how they had to move so I could design a costume that allows those movements."
Rody Vera's brilliant script injects a lot of accessible Pinoy humor into an action-driven story. According to Vera, he primarily based the story on a Chinese telenovela as opposed to the Disney version.
"When I did my own research I found out that there are so many versions about the young female warrior. I discovered that the 'original' was just a poem. So obviously even if the Disney treatment was the most popular, it is not the only way you can do it. For me, her gender was less of an issue. The more important theme is the conflict of war which no one really believes in."
Other upcoming Tanghalang Pilipino Productions include: Insiang written by Mario O'Hara and directed by Chris Millado; Kudeta by Mustapha Matura, translated by George de Jesus III and directed by Floy Quintos; as well as EJ by Ed Maranan and directed by Chris Millado.
Mulan runs from September 21-23, 28-30, at the Tanghalang Aurelio Tolentino (CCP Little Theater).
For inquiries, call Tanghalang Pilipino at 8323661 or Ticketworld at 8919999.