By Nickky F.P de Guzman, Reporter
Eto Na! Musikal nAPO
Produced by 9 Works Theatrical
Ongoing until Aug. 26
Maybank Performing Arts Theatre,
Bonifacio Global City, Taguig
ETO NA! Musikal nAPO! is bounded by time (it is set in 1975), but it is timeless in theme, and, of course, in music that transcends generations.
It is 1975 and a barkada from an all-male college wants to join a song-writing contest. It is obviously that the songs they pen, and which are used throughout the musical, are those of the legendary Apo Hiking Society.
The first scene is set on the first day of class and the whole gang breaks into song, “Blue Jeans,” which sets the tone for the rest of the musical — light, funny, and breezy.
But then, the story is set in 1975, the age of dictatorship, which means that the narrative would thread between the light moments of the college friends and the dark realities of the Marcos regime that shaped their consciousness. It is established early in scenes which feature the enforcement of a strict curfew, the banning of group assemblies, and then the boys have to be careful about what they say in public because the ground had ears. “Bawal magmura!” is heard every time the friends confront their differences or express their excitement.
An original musical, Eto na! Musikal nAPO! is a tribute to APO’s songs, a trip down memory lane, and then some.
The four leads are a long-haired Mark Bautista (it suits him) who plays as Rick, the group’s lyricist who has to juggle his studies, love life — his girlfriend Anna is played by Rita Daniela —, and song writing. When things go awry between the lovers, of course, they have to sing “Tuyo Nang Damdamin.”
Then there’s Jon Go, who plays as Ray, a medical student conflicted between his passion in music and his studies. Neomi Gonzales plays his lenient mom and Raul Montesa his strict dad who insists he prioritize med school above all else. The family members sing “Batang Bata Ka Pa” to express where they are coming from. In Act 2, Mr. Montesa has a heart-wrenching solo of “Pagibig.” I could hear the entire Maybank Theater weep as he sang the first few lines, “No’ng tangan ng nanay mo ang munti mong mga kamay, ika’y tuwang-tuwa, panatag ang loob sa damdaming ika’y mahal.” It was a powerful scene.
For comedic relief there is the playboy of the bunch, Butch, played by stage neophyte Jobim Javier (an FM radio DJ who also happens to be the son of APO’s Danny Javier). Javier proves to be a complete package on stage — he sings, he dances, and drops jokes in perfect timing. Of the many girls Butch casually meets on campus, he is determined to woo Michelle (played by Sab Jose) who already has a basketball player for a boyfriend. Butch, of course, sings “Mahirap Magmahal ng Syota ng Iba.”
One of the leaders in the group is Sonny, played by Alfritz Blanche. He’s literally and figuratively big — both his physique and his voice. Sonny has a girlfriend, Jane, played by Marika Sasaki, and they quarrel every time they talk about their future — Jane had to continue her studies abroad because the family business is in a tight situation thanks to President Marcos. “Paano” just had to be the lover’s duet.
The remaining three boys in the barkada are Jaime (Jef Flores), Bobby (Vyen Villanueva), and Donnie (Jon Abella), who serve as the chorus of the group in Act I, but are given pivotal roles in Act 2. It was implied that these three are the avatars of APO’s Jim Paredes, Boboy Garovillo, and Danny Javier.
Flores’ Jaime elicits loads of laughter thanks to his barok Tagalog — both the actor and the character he’s playing are pretty Amboys (Filipinos who grew up in the US).
The fun also comes from the many references to the era the story is set in. Besides from on-point 1970s costumes like bell bottoms and large collared-polos, the show makes references to the Thrilla in Manila boxing match, having a date at the Magnolia Ice Cream House, the absence of traffic on Highway 54 (present day EDSA), and an air-conditioned Love Bus. The audience couldn’t help but laugh at these references and remember the life back then.
Another factor that makes the production interesting is the careful effort put into making it. Some recent musicals that are based on a band’s repertoire often jam in unnecessary events to accommodate the use of a hit song. But not this musical. Writer and director Robbie Guevara, with the help of his co-writer and dramaturge Jon Jon Martin, married songs and scenes impeccably.
Also included in the musical are the APO hits “Salawikain,” “Pumapatak na Naman Ang Ulan,” “Ewan,” and “Awit ng Barkada,” among many others. Musical director Daniel Bartolome did not alter the arrangements drastically, which meant the audience could sing along — but only under their breath, of course.
The musical’s linear narrative means it has to end with whether or not the barkada is able to create songs and join the contest.
Eto Na! Musikal nAPO is a production of 9 Works Theatrical and Globe Live, co-presented by Frontrow and Fox Life. It is on view at Maybank Performing Arts Theatre in Bonifacio Global City, Taguig until Aug. 26. For tickets visit www.ticketworld.com.ph.