By Nickky Faustine P. de Guzman, Reporter
Theater Review
Ang Huling el Bimbo
Resorts World Manila
FILMMAKERS say that a story is good if it follows a full circle: the premise at the beginning is addressed at the ending. The premise, often confused with the plot, is the initial action of a narrative. Premise is hypothesis or the very reason why the story is being told, while plot is the story line.
Resorts World Manila’s Ang Huling El Bimbo is a good story: it has a clear premise and an ending that answers its hypothesis. Kudos goes to playwright, Dingdong Novenario, a noted Virgin Labfest favorite, for his cohesive story.
The musical’s establishing scene, which explain what the premise of the story is, starts with an unidentified dead body in a spotlight in the middle of the dark stage. A death at the very beginning is the audiences’ cue that Ang Huling El Bimbo is more than just a light and funny story filled with 1990s nostalgia. This isn’t a spoiler — the title itself, after all, is a clue that some things are not bound to last.
The death scene is followed with the three main characters — Emman, Anthony, and Hector, played respectively by OJ Mariano, Jon Santos, and Gian Magdangal — being summoned to a police station. The three know each other, although they act like they don’t. What was it in their past that prompted them to be so cold to one another? Were they hiding a dark secret? Why would the police call them? These questions build up the flow of the entire narrative resulting in a thick and layered story of friendship, and more. The premise of the story, then, tells the audience of a stark truth: people who were once so close can grow apart if they do not sustain their relationships, or when they become too busy pursuing their own goals, problems, and affairs. Sometimes reunions happen not because we miss our old friends, but because something happened to them — they’re on their deathbed or leaving the country.
The story line is not linear, jumping between years. The first act is where all the fun is. Here, the audience is transported back to the 1990s — all plaid shirts, baggy jeans, and phone booths — with the three men reminiscing over how their friendship was formed. On stage are actors Boo Gabunada, Reb Atadero, and Topper Fabregas playing the younger versions of Emman, Hector, and Anthony, respectively.
Mr. Fabregas’ Anthony provides most of the comic relief with his funny antics. He plays a gay man who restrains himself in front of his friends because his father likes to beat him up, a typical LGBTQ dilemma in the ’90s — well, even much later.
The three young men are UP students and dorm-mates in Kalayaan. They frequent Toyang’s Canteen where they meet Joy (played by Tanya Manalang and then later by Menchu Lauchengco-Yulo, who also happens to be the musical’s associate director).
The friends drift apart in adulthood when life happens to them, only to be reunited to confront their past.
The musical features the music of the iconic ’90s band Eraserheads and includes the songs “Pare Ko,” “Shirley,” “With a Smile,” “Spoliarium,” “Tindahan ni Aleng Nena,” “Hwag Kang Matakot,” and, of course, “Ang Huling El Bimbo.” Musical director, Myke Salomon — who also rearranged the music of another band, Aegis, for another musical, PETA’s Rak of Aegis — did an outstanding job in mashing up the E-heads’ songs and making them theater-ready. But don’t go looking for the well-loved songs “Magasin” “Tuwing Umuulan at Kapiling Ka,” and “Superproxy” because they’re not in the score.
Most of the iconic songs fit in the story, and the story is written to fit in the iconic songs. But then, there are times when a song is unnecessarily jammed in the narrative, or a unnecessarily scene is jammed into the story to fit a song in, like a “Kaliwete” scene.
One of the highlights in the musical is the friends’ joyride to Antipolo where they ride a real Toyota onstage while singing “Alapaap.” “Gusto mo bang sumama?”
The first act ends with a cliffhanger, and moves forward toward Act 2, which is heavier and more serious in tone. Gone is the fun of remembering 1990s references like the long-lived peace sign, fruitcakes, old jokes, and Ang TV. The second act is the affirmation of the premise established in the first few minutes of the musical. Act 2 is darker, sadder, and a tearjerker — or, in Eraserheads lingo, a really “Julie Tearjerky.”
Ang Huling El Bimbo is on view at RWM until Sept. 2.