While it was partly inspired by a popular dance craze in the early 1970s, “Ang Huling El Bimbo” is anything but upbeat.
As a matter of fact, the song that is arguably the biggest hit of legendary pop rockers The Eraserheads from 1996, tells the story of an ill-fated girl who as a child loved to dance the “El Bimbo” with her childhood friends. As one of the boys would find out in later years, the poor girl ended up as a single mom who took on odd jobs and was eventually ran over by a car in a dark alley.
Twenty-two years later, Resorts World Manila through its resident theater company Full House decided to produce a jukebox musical based on the songs of the Eraserheads. Hot on the heels of the successful staging of Sa Wakas (based on the songs of Sugarfree) and Rak of Aegis (based on the music of, well, Aegis), the ‘Heads-inspired musical, called Ang Huling El Bimbo, honors the song that inspired it by following its dark and tragic tone.
And just like in the song’s music video, Ang Huling El Bimbo the musical follows the story of three lads named Hector, Anthony and Emman (Reb Atadero, Topper Fabregas, Boo Gabunada) who all met in college during the 1990s and then became friends with Joy (Tanya Manalang), a fellow student whose perky demeanor and wide-eyed enthusiasm made her more than just one of the boys in the group.
It was in this first act that the audience were treated to some of the show’s heartwarming and sentimental sing-along moments in numbers like “Minsan,” “Tindahan ni Aling Nena,” “Shirley,” “Pare Ko” (arranged and choreographed as a Citizen’s Military Training anthem) and “Alapaap.”
Less used but equally memorable as cameos and even Easter eggs were tunes like “Overdrive,” “Magasin” and even Marcus Adoro’s “Punk Zappa,” while the character of Joy himself is a nod to “Ligaya,” the vernacular meaning of the name.
During a weekend getaway, a harrowing incident, the aftermath of which all four refused to come to terms with, will also explain why the musical started with a dead body covered in newspapers, an apparent victim of an extra-judicial killing and why the three boys, now grown men (played by Gian Magdangal, Jon Santos and OJ Mariano) are in a police precinct, being questioned about their knowledge of the victim.
This sets the stage for the more somber Act 2.
With “With a Smile” serving as a graduation hymn of sorts, the three boys remained in a state of denial over what happened to their lady friend who they tried to avoid like the plague. Going their separate ways after graduation, all three boys found some measure of success even as the ghost of their dark past kept manifesting itself in their largely sad and miserable situations.
Meanwhile, in her desire to get out of the rut she found herself (and yes, her child) into, Joy (now Menchu Lauchengco-Yulo) fell deeper into a downward spiral and eventually paid the ultimate price. But while the breakup of their friendship had something to do with what happened to Joy, it was also her tragic fate that reunites them. Although the first act features more popular ‘Heads songs by comparison, the second act is memorable for the introspective musings of “Spoliarium” and yes, the poignant rendition of “Ang Huling El Bimbo” sung by Gian Magdangal during the show’s most sorrowful moment.
With a compelling enough story by playwright Dingdong Novenario, thoughtful direction by Dexter Santos and the musical arrangements by Myke Salomon who deftly mined the most appropriate Eraserheads songs that best fit the story’s narrative plus an outstanding cast that also included Jamie Wilsons as the mobster-like local politician and the criminally underrated Sheila Francisco as Joy’s aunt, Tiya Dely, there is a lot to like about this original production of Ang Huling El Bimbo.
Production values are likewise top-notch although it was quite a head scratcher to see Anthony wearing bell bottoms when their college days were supposed to be set in the ‘90s.
Nitpicks aside, yes, it would certainly be a lot easier to pander to the crowd and take a more festive approach in presenting Ang Huling El Bimbo. But the direction that the creators took, while not necessarily pushing the envelope, takes the songs popularized by Ely Buendia, Raymund Marasigan, Buddy Zabala and Marcus Adoro into a whole, new and ultimately illuminating light.
Ang Huling El Bimbo runs every Friday, Saturday and Sunday at the Newport Performing Arts Theater in Resorts World Manila until 2 September. For ticket information, visit www.ticketworld.com.ph.