THEATER REVIEW: 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: ★★★★☆

MOVIE REVIEW: MAMA’S GIRL (Connie Macatuno, 2018)

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SPOILER ALERT!!

My notes on Mama’s Girl:

1. I think it was Maricel Soriano in T2 who held the record for the most number of times that a Pinoy character mentioned another character’s name in the entire duration of a movie. My ears were bleeding by the nth time she screamed “Angeli!”.

I thought that I would suffer the same fate while watching this one. Every time Mina (Sylvia Sanchez, transitioning from Nay to Mama) would mention “Abbypotpot”, I would cringe and just wanted to crawl in a fetal position. It wasn’t merely annoying, the unnecessary repetition rendered the inauthenticity of this term of endearment.

2. Should I feel like a monster for not appreciating a movie that showcased the undying love of a mother? One where Mama Mina actually pulled a Bea Alonzo as The Incredible Hulk in She’s The One and singlehandedly changed a flat tire in the rain?

I’d put the blame on Abbypotpot (Sofia Andres), a character devoid of empathy because she was just so stubborn, selfish, ungrateful, and acted like the biggest privileged B (I meant brat, by the way). And that was even before her mother’s death so there was just no excuse for her terrible attitude.

3. Or maybe it was because this one completely ripped off P.S. I Love You, one of my most-watched post-breakup comfort movies. I thought of it first when she started seeing her dead mother doing normal things while dispensing life lessons, but it was made more obvious when it was revealed that said mom also left a box of five letters with carefully written instructions that she needed to follow step-by-step. Pati voiceover kuhang-kuha at kulang na lang talaga si Gerard Butler. So much for originality.

4. Part of the box’s contents was a set of index cards that had the secret recipes of Mama Mina’s successful Pasta House. I wasn’t sure why she didn’t make habilin before her death, especially if said recipes could make or break her pasta empire. Wouldn’t it have been easier to teach in person the proper way to slice tomatoes or how big each meatball should be? If she had time to write each note, surely she could have found an hour for a quick kitchen tutorial.

5. I wasn’t surprised when the restaurant business crumbled after her death. None of her staff knew that they were serving items that were considered panis (“Maasim na daw po yung lasa”). Seriously, only Mama Mina would know if something was spoiled already? Not even the chef/cook tasted the food before it went out of the kitchen? And to make matters worse, the solution they came up with to pacify these complaints was to offer a complimentary cake. Sana hindi rin panis diba?

6. I think this would be the fifth film that starred Jameson Blake that I had seen in a span of one year, but definitely no complaints here. As Zak, a supposedly famous rock star slash cheating ex-boyfriend of Abbypotpot, his scenes were usually punctuated by drum sounds for added effect (“It’s over!” Drum sounds. “Slap!” Drum sounds.)

At least he could play a rock in his next film and I would pay to watch it without any reservations.

7. For a story about motherly love, there was too much time spent on the landian between Abbypotpot and best friend Nico (Diego Loyzaga). He kept calling her Budz and I really thought it was short for Budjoy because they were basically playing the reversed roles of Ned and Budjoy in Labs Kita Okay Ka Lang?. Unfortunately, I was rooting for Zak the entire time.

8. While other mothers would ask their kids not to cry upon their death, Mama Mina’s loving advice to Abbypotpot was “Hindi pa ako patay. Tipirin mo na lang ang mga luha mo sa libing ko.” Eek!

9. Sofia’s a lovely girl, but the abundance of her pink blush here gave new meaning to pumuputok. At least she looked very much like a #VavaengMarangal.

10. Upon reading the words “Ang pagluluto ay parang pagmamahal. Kelangan bantayan at kapag hindi ka marunong pumili ng mga sangkap, lahat mababalewala”, Abbypotpot magically turned into a chef that could save their restaurant business. Nahiya bigla ang lahat ng Culinary Arts students.

Kelangan lang pala mag-practice to the tune of With a Smile. Pasok Reese Lansangan. “Lurft yer herd, bheybee durn’t buhr scurred…”

Rating: ★★☆☆☆