The teenage drama “Tabing Ilog” opened with friends taking turns on the tire swing by the riverbank on a balmy afternoon. It was a ’90s Sunday afternoon TV staple, and ABS-CBN is giving it a theater treatment set in the present.
With book by Jade Castro (“Dalawang Gabi”), and music and lyrics by Vincent de Jesus (“Changing Partners,” “Himala” and “Care Divas”), “Tabing Ilog: The Musical” will run March 7-April 26 at the ABS-CBN Dolphy Theater in Quezon City.
Director Topper Fabregas (“Company,” “Tribes” and “Rabbit Hole”) said he watched “Tabing Ilog” during his “formative years,” and wanted to translate the rustic countryside feel of the show into the musical.
“I love the simplicity of that era way before social media,” he said. “Friendships were more genuine, and the quality of life was different. It was not as fast-paced, and we didn’t have an overload of information.”
The “Tabing Ilog” OG barkada are now established actors. The cast included John Lloyd Cruz as Rovic Mercado, Jodi Sta. Maria as George Fuentebella, Paula Peralejo as Anne de Guzman, Kaye Abad as Eds de los Santos, Desiree del Valle as Corrine Ledesma, Paolo Contis as Badong Magtibay, Patrick Garcia as James Collantes and Baron Geisler as Fonzy Ledesma.
But how do you get teens to get off their phone and gather by the river? Two words: No signal.
“The river is the designated meeting place when they get offline,” Fabregas said. “Tabing Ilog: The Musical” will discuss youth issues such as depression, mental health, bullying and sexual identity, with some politics in the background. It was an advocacy of the TV show to tackle issues at that time such as premarital sex, teenage pregnancy, family problems and alcohol abuse.
Millennial and Gen Z TV and theater actors and singers make up the cast. Kiara Takahashi, Abi Kassem and Gab Pangilinan will alternate as Eds. Sky Quizon, Hanie Jarar and Ian Pangilinan will play Rovic. Batit Espiritu, Emjay Savilla will be Badong.Jem Macatuno, Gian Wang and Gabby Sarmiento will take turns as James Collantes, while Argel Saycon, Ellyson de Dios and Vino Malabot will play Fonzy Ledesma.
Abby Trinidad and Belle Delos Reyes from the MNL48 girl group and Mia Canton will share the role of George Fuentebella. Lou Yanong, Missy Quino and Teetin Villanueva will be Corinne.
Shawntel Cruz, Krystal Kane and Justine Narciso will play Jerry Ricafort (a supporting role then played by Mylene Dizon).
Two new characters will be introduced. Art Guma, Ian Hermogenes and Franco Ramos will play Ely. MNL48’s Brei Binuya, Noel Comia and Lie Reposposa will be Sammy Collantes.
Other cast members include Jojit Lorenzo, Paolo O’Hara, Agot Isidro and Joann Co.
“Tabing Ilog” is a coming-of-age musical, Fabregas said, and the challenge is to present it as a platform for young people without being too preachy or demonizing the internet.
It can be a romantic, nostalgic trip for those who grew up in the mid-’90s to early 2000s (the TV drama ran from 1999-2003), since the original theme sung by Barbie’s Cradle will be incorporated in the musical. Parents are encouraged to watch it, too, to get an idea of what kids are up to. For the younger audience, Fabregas aims to impart this takeaway: “It’s OK to slow it down.”
“Technology is necessary but nothing beats real relationships; the friends we had before, we kept,” Fabregas said. “The musical highlights that there can be family beyond blood—friends are really family you choose.”
The revival of “Tabing Ilog” as a musical furthers its status in Pinoy pop culture, beyond being tagged as a rip-off of the ’90s American series “Dawson’s Creek.” Its core remains: childhood bonds, friendship and family, and growing up—or “adulting” as it is called now.
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