It takes a vision, the coming together of some of the most brilliant names in musical theater, a solid creative and production team and a collective can-do attitude to stage a production such as the loved-up, all-original Filipino musical, “Ang Huling El Bimbo.”
For one, there’s the daunting task of selecting which songs from the extensive discography of iconic Pinoy band, Eraserheads will help weave a compelling story about friendship, betrayal, love, and ultimately, redemption and hope.
But trust the amazing teams of Full House Theater Company and Resorts World Manila to deliver and how!
Now on its second run after last year’s sold-out debut, “Ang Huling El Bimbo” brings back to the RWM’s Newport Performing Arts Theater its stellar original cast, among them Jon Santos (Anthony), Gian Magdangal (Hector) OJ Mariano (Emman), Tanya Manalang (young Joy), Reb Atadero (young Hector), Boo Gabunada (young Emman), Bibo Reyes
(young Emman), Jamie Wilson (Arturo Banlaoi), Sheila Francisco (Tiya Dely) and Menchu Lauchengco-Yulo (Joy). The 2019 production features new additions, including Gab Pangilinan (Joy), Myke Salomon (Emman), Rafa Siguion-Reyna (Anthony), David Ezra (Hector), Nicco Manalo (young Emman), Phi Palmos and Lance Reblando (young Anthony) and Carla Guevara-Laforteza (Joy).
Set in the 90s and mostly at the university where their paths cross, the musical introduces audiences to its three young protagonists Hector, Emman and Anthony as they navigate through life’s ups and downs. Armed with idealism and a common goal to someday make a name for themselves, the three become fast friends despite their different backgrounds. They meet the sunshiny, perpetually optimistic Joy, niece of the owner of their go-to carinderia/tambayan. Joy becomes the glue that will keep them together, their number one cheerleader and confidante, whose cheerful facade masks a vulnerable soul. Her unfortunate circumstances will force them to face one another in an unplanned reunion some 20 years later where they are confronted with a fractured friendship, their own unresolved issues and a painful revisiting of the past.
The story, though seemingly simple at first, turns poignant as it progresses, especially at the end of Act 1 when an unexpected twist leaves you asking: What did just happen?
The narrative relies heavily on the adept choice of songs and to say that the Eraserheads’ anthemic tracks are given an excitingly new take is an understatement. The marriage of script and music results in scenes we all can relate with. A personal favorite, the skillfully-choreographed ROTC routine for “Pare Ko,” evokes memories of sunny days spent memorizing drills and gearing up for tactical inspections. There’s the graduation scene set to a dramatic version of “With A Smile.” A tear-inducing bit is Ms. Francisco cooing “Ganyan ma in love …” (from “Shirley”) as she comforts a naive and brokenhearted Joy. Arguably the most popular Eraserheads hit is, of course, “Ang Huling El Bimbo” which is given its proper highlight in a visually arresting deja vu of Emman, Anthony, Hector and Joy’s spontaneous and life-changing “joyride.”
Directed and choreographed by Dexter M. Santos, with a libretto by Dingdong Novenario, “Ang Huling El Bimbo” also features the impressive work of actor/musical director/vocal coach, Myke Salomon.
Dramaturg Floy Quintos was brought in to rework the book for the 2019 staging, fleshing out the leads “to reflect a problem that humanity faces today.” “How we can become so wrapped up in the false security of our little worlds that we marginalize, demonize, and dispose so thoughtlessly of people,” he says.
The actors’ remarkable performances, the timeless songs of the Eraserheads, the boundless energy of the Manila Philharmonic Orchestra and the other technical merits of the musical have earned raves from casual viewers, fans and critics. In fact, it recently got the lion’s share of nominations–a total of 12–from the Gawad Buhay Awards.
But ultimately, it is the relatability of its characters and the universality of its themes–love, forgiveness, redemption–that will leave a mark on its viewers, long after the cast members–at curtain call–teases the crowd with an invitation: “Gusto mo bang sumama?”
“Ang Huling El Bimbo” will run until April 14, with shows from Thursday to Sunday at 8 p.m. and matinees at 3 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday at the Newport Performing Arts Theater. Tickets are available at the RWM Box Office and TicketWorld outlets. For complete show schedules, download the RWM Mobile App.