By Joseph L. Garcia
Lean – A Filipino Musical
May 12, 7 p.m.; May 13, 4 p.m. and 7 p.m.
Adamson University Theater,
San Marcelino St., Ermita, Manila
POOR Lean Alejandro. Perhaps he never saw the bullet that shot his face off while on his way to his office in September 1987. The former student-leader and sworn activist, a young enemy of the Marcos regime, was possibly still burning with hope for the newly restored democracy when he was gunned down in 1987, just a year and a few months after the EDSA Revolution that toppled many of his enemies.
Lean’s story is a bitter example of change that never came, and Lean: A Filipino Musical, composed by his fellow activist Gary Granada (now better more for his ad jingles and his love songs), serves as a tribute not only to Lean himself, but to other people who fought the Marcos regime and paid the price for freedom and change with their own lives. The musical had been produced two times previously: once in 1997, and again in 2013. This 2017 production is staged by UP Manila Dramatista.
A press preview on May 5 showed a stumbling crew, a cast which can sing but cannot be heard properly, and a stammering narrator. However, these may be forgiven as the student production has a battle to fight themselves.
The internal drama to which director, student-activist Vanessa Rubian, admits to, serves as a perfect foil for a play about a society that does not work, thanks to an inefficient bureaucracy. Ms. Rubian said that if the press preview was sub-par, it was because they had only been able to rehearse on the day itself. “We’re from UP-Manila Dramatista, and in UP-Manila, there’s no space,” she said. According to her, various organizations have been fighting over the limited space within the campus for about three years now, and if one wanted to use a classroom for extracurricular activities, an organization has to pay P600 for two hours. How’s that for wanting to be heard?
The press preview only included about six songs from the production, and because of the sub-par quality of the sound (again, not Ms. Rubian’s fault, as she and the crew had only stepped into the theater just the night before), some of the songs could not be properly heard. One also has to excuse the lack of accuracy in the costumes: one of the actors playing an activist in the 1970s was wearing sneakers released perhaps two years ago. The set we saw was also quite simple: three black platforms draped in black, as well as a projection screen. Yet for all the technical grandeur and mastery that this production may lack, it has heart, reason, and passion — backed by data, research, and internalization, such precious things in a world smothering in fake news. As well, the weekend showings might promise a better show.
Not many know Lean Alejandro’s story. Unlike many of his contemporaries in the student movements of the 1970s, Lean Alejandro never rose to mainstream politics, and was killed too early to make a real name for himself after Martial Law. As well, his death is a blot on the early years of Cory Aquino’s administration, for the respected activist was supposed to be running free with his ideals, with the shackles of the Marcos regime supposedly having been shaken away. Mr. Alejandro, born in 1960, began as an intellectual and challenging student in a Catholic school, and tried to pursue a degree in Chemistry in UP Diliman. After being exposed to history and political science, particularly Marxist ideology, Mr. Alejandro shifted to Philippine Studies, and began the long fight against the Marcos regime. He was jailed in 1985, and released after two months. After the 1986 EDSA Revolution, Mr. Alejandro tried to enter mainstream politics by running for a Congressional seat in Malabon-Navotas, but was defeated by Tessie Aquino-Oreta. Ms. Oreta happened to be slain senator Ninoy Aquino’s sister, and therefore the current president’s sister-in-law.
In the 1930s, and later revised in the 1960s, historian Crane Brinton wrote The Anatomy of Revolution. In the book, he dissects the reasons for revolutions, but more importantly, using the British, French, American, and Russian revolutions, he constructs a timeline that might happen before and after every revolution. The Fall of the Old Regime might be the label for the later decline and eventual flight of the Marcos family, and the EDSA Revolution that came between those events. The coup d’etats and instances of violence during the first Aquino administration might fall under the Reign of Terror and the Thermidorian Reaction (named for the month in the French Revolutionary calendar). Thermidorian reactions in revolutions see eventual regressions to pre-revolutionary ways (such as the state-sponsored violence many thought would fade after the fall of the Marcoses). Mr. Alejandro’s death can be seen as part of this timeline.
As for the production itself, we have noted its technical blunders. Most of the songs deal with Mr. Alejandro’s conflict between what each activist seeks from the coming revolution, and what he has to give up for freedom. However, two scenes may stand out in memory: the narrator recited that it would be a tribute to the fallen members of the Left and the victims of the Mendiola massacre. While their names were recited (Eman Lacaba, Lorena Barros, and Edgar Jopson were some), a chorus in black held up candles, as if a living candlelight vigil on asphalt. The effect was soulful and haunting. The second song to watch out for is “Dito,” a bouncing tune showing the elections in which Ms. Oreta defeated Mr. Alejandro. It’s cheerful, but masks corruption in traditional politico techniques such as vote-buying. Finally, the choreography is a jab at the restored democracy: while the actors playing Ms. Oreta and her party flash Laban (fight) “L” signs, indicative of her family’s alliances, Mr. Alejandro flashes the more inclusive, more militant raised left fist.
It’s no small stroke of luck that the production is directed by Ms. Rubian, a self-confessed activist. Because she’s actually aware of the causes that Lean fought for, the storytelling in this production is very sincere. When asked why Mr. Alejandro as both person and figure is still relevant today, she noted that this year is Lean Alejandro’s 30th death anniversary. She says that the play is also for Martial Law victims who have yet to see justice, pointing to the former dictator’s recent burial at the Libingan ng Mga Bayani. She also took the opportunity to educate the cast about the causes that Lean fought for (and she presumably believes in). “Ano ba iyong imperyalismo, at bakit kailangan natin itong ibagsak? (What is imperialism, and why do we need to bring it down?)” she said.
Finally, the composer of the libretto himself, Mr. Granada (who was present that evening), a bit bent, a bit old, expressed some regrets — not about the production, but about the world he continues to move in. “When I look back, wala naman kaming nabago sa lipunan (we weren’t able to change society),” he said. He said that the poor are even more vulnerable now: “Gabi-gabi, ilan namamatay (every night, how many of them die?)”
He added, “In a sense, we failed as a generation to change things; to turn things around.” This isn’t defeatist for there’s still a bit of the revolutionary spark in him, apparently: “Ang urgency, nandiyan pa din (The urgency [to move] is still there).”
When asked about the political tinge in the songs for Lean, he said, “We don’t want to hear about these songs anymore — maybe my corny love songs, I hope they will last. But these political ones, I hope, wala na… tama na (enough!)” Not a call to drop one’s arms, but to create a world where heated political songs will no longer be needed.
For details and tickets, call 0906-427-3981.