Jon Santos as Anthony, OJ Mariano as Emman, and Gian Magdangal as Hector find themselves in a precinct to confront their past.
‘Ang Huling El Bimbo’: The power of Eraserheads’ hits
SUBLIMINAL - Carlomar Arcangel Daoana (The Philippine Star) - August 6, 2018 - 12:00am

Premiering last July 26, Ang Huling El Bimbo has been touted as the musical event of the season, and for good reason: it is, after all, based on the discography of the biggest Filipino act ever. While many of Eraserheads’ songs have endured, those who listened to them in the ‘90s have grown old and hence may already feel a pang of nostalgia upon hearing the mere prompt of the initial bars. These are, after all, the songs of their youth.

While it may be a case of stating the obvious, it is actually the songs — their timelessness, their stark simplicity, their narrative that speaks of, and to, a Filipino sensibility — that not only animate but propel the musical forward, as the plot, in certain cases, huffs and puffs as it tries to keep up with the crackling energy of the Eraserheads classics. Eye-popping stage design and performances by certain actors also deliver a shot to the musical’s arm, making it still quite something to watch.

The premise that former friends Anthony (Jon Santos), Emman (OJ Mariano), and Hector (Gian Magdangal) from more than two decades ago will find themselves summoned to a precinct based only on a photograph and for an accident that doesn’t least concern them is problematic enough. Granted, they are connected by a shared tragedy in their younger years, but the callousness they have shown belies the care that they now presently exhibit; their reckoning feels forced. And to freight them with individual conflicts looks like a last-minute attempt to give these characters some dimensionality.

But the flashbacks, which are thankfully abundant and actually span the play, they are quite something. Respectively portrayed by Topper Fabregas, Boo Gabunada, and Reb Atadero, the young versions of Anthony, Emman and Hector credibly paint the bewildering recklessness of youth as they navigate through love, loss and tragedy. A memorable scene is when they dance and sing Tindahan ni Aling Nena with an intensity that is riveting.

Their lives take a turn when they meet Joy (played by Tanya Manalang), regularly converging at Toyang’s, the diner which Joy and her Aunt Dely (played by Sheila Francisco) run together. (The diner rotating on the stage to show their struggles day-in and day-out is pure magic.) Easily, Manalang and Francisco are the two best actors — and singers — in the musical, electrifying the atmosphere with their rendition of the mash-up Toyang and Shirley. It is actually their characters’ relationship that feels fleshed-out.

It is when Anthony, Emman, Hector, and Joy take a trip to take in a view of the city that their friendship is tested. Before the crucial moment that jolts them with the rude awakening of adulthood, they sing Alapaap while riding a car that swims through a sea of stars. It is one of the musical’s high points.

While Ang Huling El Bimbo is admirable for attempting to veer away from the mere feel-good, one can’t help but wonder whether the heavy, gut-wrenching elements of the musical are actually earned. Best example is Joy’s downward spiral with little possibility of redemption. But the musical hums and coasts along, because the better script is embedded in the lyrics of the songs, and we have Ely Buendia, Raimund Marasigan, Buddy Zabala, and Marcus Adoro to thank for that.

ANG HULING EL BIMBO ERASERHEADS
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