THE BELLS OF BALANGIGA, Pintig Cultural Group, at Chopin Theatre. “Freedom or treachery–what will your verdict be?” the opening song of this musical asks. The answer is obvious–who wouldn’t cheer for brave third world people fighting to defend themselves against the foreign oppressors who occupy their homeland? Of course in this case we are the foreign oppressors, and it’s President McKinley’s manifest destiny against which the Filipino guerrillas struggle.

The Bells of Balangiga features a remarkably unbiased book by Rodolfo Carlos Vera (who blames the war, not the warriors, in his treatment of this embarrassing incident in Asian-American relations) and a quasi-operatic score by Louie Pascasio that includes rousing patriotic anthems, inspirational prayers, sweet lovers’ ballads, and rowdy soldiers’ choruses. They’re performed, under Pascasio’s deft direction, by a cast of hardworking singers with clear voices, led by Megan Macaraeg as the village matriarch, Mary Ann dela Cruz as a vengeful activist, and Steve Lehman as the naive but not uncompassionate American captain.

The Bells of Balangiga reaches beyond simple agitprop pageantry and emerges as an ambitious, professional production that explores a chapter in history that’s still relevant to mainstream audiences.

–Mary Shen Barnidge