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Review: Noli Me Tangere at Riverside

By Abbie Gallagher

It is never easy to take on a beloved cultural classic and the team behind Noli Me Tangere must be commended for such an ambitious project. However, to get to the point quickly, this show is simply not well written and nowhere near ready for public viewing. For a show that had all the ingredients to be a success, I found the production in general to be highly disappointing. Based on the Filipino novel, Noli Me Tangere opens as Ibarra (Miguel Castro) returns to his homeland after seven years in Europe, only to discover the country is in chaos with a corrupt church and rebels attempting to take control from Spanish rule. He reunites with his love, Maria Clara (Susana Downes) and seeks to change his home through education and peace instead of violence.

Sounds interesting on paper and maybe the novel is good. I don’t know. Unfortunately, music hasn’t added to the story in this instance and as a musical, it is uninteresting and so poorly put together that after ten minutes I lost what little engagement I had. In the interest of full transparency, let me be blunt. They had three weeks of rehearsal when they needed at least three months, and that would have been after years more workshopping, trial, rewrites and dramaturgy. Without this time for trial and error, basic plot flaws were far too exposed and chunks of the script felt like they drew on for time unimaginable time periods. Noli Me Tangere has a very complex plot that your average viewer would struggle to keep up with because the characters and their relationships/motivations/objectives are simply not well established enough. Plot points appear out of nowhere and vanish just as quickly. An example - At one point a priest murders a church boy in cold blood. This is brought up towards the end of Act 2 by a character who honestly should have no idea about the event, and the characters dismiss it. They essentially say “We’ll talk about it later” (they never do) and then, knowing what he's done, the priest is asked to escort Maria Clara, who he apparently has a sexual interest in, to a convent. Beloved story or not, this is not what I want to watch any longer and frankly it's disappointing to see assault so blatantly disregarded in a storyline in 2019. The arts have a greater responsibility than that.

At this point too, one can’t help but feel that they key characters are either equally confused or ashamed of this and less than stellar acting and singing is all that can be offered to the audience. The score is serviceable enough but far from memorable, and in some cases the music simply doesn’t match what’s happening on stage. The most striking example of this is when Tasio (Sean Perez) sings describing the real, horrendous circumstances of Ibarra’s father’s death, and the composer has chosen to make this an upbeat tempo. Frankly it’s quite jarring and makes no sense. Additionally, the orchestra seems strangely muted, often being drowned out by the singers which means the music has little impact and the fact that the orchestra is crowded onto the stage cramping the space and is highly distracting.

Despite these massive flaws, credit must go where it is due. Susana Downes sings well as Maria Clara and some standouts include Marcus Rivera (Elias) and the criminally underused Andrew Wang. The set and lighting are very impressive, and the beautiful period costumes inject some much needed colour into the proceedings. Again, I appreciate the monumental task of bringing an original musical to the stage. It’s disappointing that this show is not even close to being finished, when with the right work and creative team, it could be something. But as for now, it’s definitely a work in progress at best.

Photo Credit: Shakira Wilson

All opinions and thoughts expressed within reviews on Theatre Travels are those of the writer and not of the company at large.


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