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Grit, depth in E’heads musical encore

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My college days were saturated with their music. I often heard their songs blasting on the jeepney’s radio during my daily commute to school in the ’90s, and their music accompanied me and my classmates through school trips and days spent on group projects.

Being a true blue, prudish, goody-two-shoes manang back then, whose choice of music tended to gravitate towards the classical and the occasional pop tunes of Madonna, Cyndi Lauper or Debbie Gibson, their songs at first annoyed and unsettled me. Peppered with irreverent lyrics, unexpectedly succinct and clearly pronounced curses and swears, their songs were a shock to my vanilla, nun-like existence. In effect, their music was a part of my awakening — to everything.

That’s how the Eraserheads’ music shaped my collegiate life, accompanied me, helped me navigate through growing up pains and made easier the changes happening throughout. And to see their music now being used to tell a story is a welcome turn of events.

Following a successful run in September of last year, Resorts World Manila, in celebration of its 10th year, plays host to Ang Huling El Bimbo at the Newport Performing Arts Theater from 1 March to 6 April. This musical play that featured beloved songs from the most iconic ’90s Filipino rock band was critically-acclaimed that it was perennially sold out despite additional show dates as many were still unable to get tickets.

(IN clockwise order) Menchu Lauchengco-Yulo, Gian Magdangal, OJ Mariano, Jon Santos, Phi Palmos, Boo Gabunada, Bibo Reyes and Gab Pangilinan.

“We were very lucky in the first one, we’re really blessed. We’re not going to brag, but it feels good since we really didn’t expect it,” says director Dexter Santos. “People for the longest time kept on asking me if we foresaw the play’s success. I mean, success in terms of people who came to sold-out shows. It’s a labor of love. It’s flattering when people come to see your labor of love when it is an untried, untested original work.”

Perhaps the fact that most people grew up listening to the Eraserheads added to its appeal to theatergoers. It could be remembered that band icon Ely Buendia watched twice and even decided to come up the stage.

“There were Eraserheads fans who watched but are non-theater goers. Now, they are watching other plays. They went into the theater knowing it was Eraserheads (music) and then they fell in love with theater and want to watch shows. Or some of them are usually going to foreign musicals. It’s good for El Bimbo and for the whole theater industry because we need that audience and we were able to use the Eraserheads to bring the people into the theater. So it’s a win-win situation,” Santos adds.

Santos says there won’t be big changes in this run. The music and the energetic staging will still be there, but the creative team will delve deeper into the characters, particularly the main protagonist. “It’s still going to be there — much of the grit that was present in the previous run is now being retained and explored more, I think, in terms of what we really want. The hits of Eraserheads are still there to resonate and become a musical of our times.”

“Given the huge success of the first run, we wanted to ensure that the audiences will still be treated to all the best-loved songs as in the original, save for a few tweaks in aid of a more streamlined storytelling,” says associate director Menchu Lauchengco-Yulo. “It’s an even more amazing show now for those who will see it for the first time, and these changes will bring an added dimension of enjoyment for those who have already seen it before.”

As previously done, the play fits the songs of the Eraserheads perfectly in the narrative. “We came up with these characters that will fit the story, which song would fit those characters and then where to move the plot further and, being fans, more or less we know the portfolio,” playwright Dingdong Novenario explains.

“I think since it’s a jukebox musical, it’s kind of difficult since you’re required to use the songs based on the specific narrative and people know it. I think it was a conscious effort from the very beginning. It was our mandate to serve the material, I mean the numbers are not only there because they are hits or they’re the soundtrack of our lives, but then again how does it help in pushing the action forward?” Santos adds.

Santos believes that this play would strike a chord with the millennials, being a universal story of love and friendship. It also opens their awareness to the songs of the Eraserheads.

“The story itself is a universal story of love, friendship. At the end of the day, it’s a universal story of the family and the whole millennial thing about the everyday struggles that we have right now. We were able to tackle drugs, oppression and survival. I think those themes are very timely up to now. My students message me that ‘Sir, ang ganda pala ng music ng Eraserheads’ and suddenly, they start listening to it on Spotify.”

Many of the original cast members will be back, including Gian Magdangal, OJ Mariano, Jon Santos, Reb Atadero, Boo Gabunada, Bibo Reyes, Tanya Manalang and Lauchengco-Yulo. Coming in are a new set of actors Nicco Manalo, Lance Reblando, David Ezram, Phi Palmos, Myke Salomon, Rafa Siguion-Reyna, Gabriella Pangilinan and Carla Guevara-Laforteza.

Writer-director Floy Quintos will join the team, which also includes musical director Myke Salomon, artistic director Michael Williams and costume designer Marlon Rivera.

Special show promotions are available to Resorts World Manila members through the RWM Mobile App which is available for free download via the AppStore or GooglePlay. Guests who are 21 years old and above may avail of free RWM membership to qualify for RWM Mobile App promotions.

Tickets to Ang Huling El Bimbo are available at Ticket World (www.ticketworld.com.ph) and the RWM Box Office at GF Newport Mall, Resorts World Manila. Call the Tourist/Visitor Hotline at (02)908-8833 for inquiries.

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