ANG HULING EL BIMBO (THE MUSICAL) (Dexter Santos, 2018)

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SPOILER ALERT!!

My notes on Ang Huling El Bimbo (The Musical):

1. I’d be lying if I told you that I was the biggest fan of the Eraserheads considering that I gave up on them after the disappointing Sticker Happy (by that time, I had already moved on to Hanson’s Middle of Nowhere). Magasin was their very first song that I really liked. I saved up all of my lunch money (and gave up my favorite kuchay pie from Mr. Teo’s) just to afford their Circus cassette tape. While everyone else listened to Jose Mari Chan for Christmas, I was locked up in my room singing along to Fruitcake. I even paid Php150 (considered exorbitant to a high school student in the 90’s) for their Bananatype EP that contained only five (!!) songs. My idea of rebellion was listening (and cursing along) to the “Tangina” version of Pare Ko in their Ultraelectromagneticpop! album. And when the band was plagued with rumors about devil worship (apparently, backmasking Cutterpillow would reveal Satanic chants) and subliminal drug use in songs (hello Alapaap!), my soul full of Catholic guilt loved them even more. Still not the biggest fan, though. I didn’t even like Spoliarium.

2. When I heard the news that a musical was being made based on the band’s discography, I was initially doubtful. Would I really want to hear bastardized versions of their most masa hits sung by professional musical theater actors? Would these songs that meant dearly to me still have the same effect if they were taken out of context? My only hope was that this style actually worked for Mamma Mia! and even if some of the tunes felt forced into a storyline, the end result was still a joyous ode to the classic songs of Abba. Even with a more melodramatic plot, El Bimbo wasn’t any different in celebrating the wonderful anthems of an iconic 90’s band.

3. I actually liked how some of the songs took on a whole new meaning here. One of my favorites was how they “ruined” such an optimistic one like With a Smile and reworked it into a heartbreaking ballad. The sight of young Joy (a wonderful Tanya Manalang) holding graduation sampaguita necklaces for her friends after suffering a tragic incident made me cry in my seat. I also adored the giddy Tindahan ni Aling Nena sequence that had three different versions of courtship happening onstage. The rest of the songs retained the same emotional resonance like the nostalgic Minsan number (still my favorite OPM of all time) and the expertly-staged hallucinogenic version of Alapaap.

4. Although the story felt a bit lacking in terms of the development of friendships and the choice to make it brutally sentimental (the complete shift in tone during the end of the first act left the audience wondering if they should be clapping given such a horrific scene), it more than made up for it with great choreography (the marching band version of Pare Ko was a hoot) and spectacular set design (the revolving stage used for Toyang’s carinderia and the Overdrive car was a visual treat).

5. The vocal performances were consistently good across the board, although I found some of the casting a bit off. I adored Topper Fabregas (as the young Anthony) and when he showed up in one scene with his face badly-bruised, my heart just exploded because I knew they were playing my song Hey Jay next. Jon Santos (as the repressed present Anthony) was also terrific, but he looked considerably older compared to Gian Magdangal (as the present Hector) and OJ Mariano (as the present Emman; loved the conceit that he lost his gorgeous locks). This age thing was also my concern for the divine Menchu Lauchengco-Yulo (as the present Joy). Also, she sang beautifully, but had that classically-trained (read: very conyo) style of singing that deviated from the young Joy’s masa character.

6. The sprinkle of 90’s pop culture references from Ang TV and Cindy’s to the “Chicken!” of Tropang Trumpo were simply perfect for certified Titos and Titas of Manila. On the other hand, the interludes used from different Eraserheads albums were a welcome treat for the fans. If you could recite the entire “Gusto mo ng tahong, gusto mo ng labong, ispaghetti, patitocini, banana que, nilagang suso, tahong chips ahoy…” line, then this was made for a certified E-Head like you.

Rating: ★★★★☆