I wasn’t able to see the original stage play of Ang Huling El Bimbo during its many runs mainly because of my work schedule but I’m glad that Resorts World Manila partnered with ABS-CBN during the enhanced community quarantine to stream the musical for a limited time (48 hours from May 8-9, 2020) to help encourage donations to the Sagip Kapamilya program amid the COVID-19 global health pandemic. At a time that people can’t go to the theater, it was a notable effort to spread the joy of the stage to the people.
Synopsis: Eman (Boo Gabunada/ OJ Mariano), Hector (Bibo Reyes/ Gian Magdangal) and Anthony (Phi Palmos/ Jon Santos) are three friends from different backgrounds who meet Joy (Gab Pangilinan/Menchu Lauchengco-Yulo), the niece of a university food stall owner when they go to college. Joy becomes a best friend, a little sister and a lover to the three men but one tragedy severs their ties until they are summoned by the police one night to find out about her death.
I generally liked the overall approach to the storytelling of Ang Huling El Bimbo and the infusion of Eraserheads’ iconic songs but I must admit that the characters all sucked. Its truly hard to root for any of the characters, from their early days as optimistic and enthusiastic college students to successful but heartless “pillars of society” who were too cowardly to deal with the real repercussions of one fateful mistake in their youth. The problem persists until the end where a forced “happy ending” was presented to wrap up the tale of friendship among the four lead characters.
I got that the stageplay was trying to inject societal issues in the story such as LGBT, friendship, corruption, and basically tackling the evils by representing them through characters like Councilor Banlaoi, but I felt that every character in the piece was a villain with the exception of Joy and her family. It was a very uncomfortable feeling from the beginning, to hate characters even before their backstory is established.
Still, because it was inspired by the music of the Eraserheads, I was already singing along from the first scene and found myself reminiscing about my favorite alternative rock music in high school. The way the musical established the parallels between the present and the past versions of the characters was also well executed, although I must admit that there were moments that the Eraserheads’ songs did not quite suit the theatrical approach. The faster songs were fun but there were others that seemed awkward because the singing style for the stage is far different from the vibe that Ely, Raymund, Buddy and Marcus intended.
There were great moments on campus that alums of UP would definitely relate to. The actors who played the young and adult version of Eman, Hector and Anthony also deserve a lot of credit for the consistency in their portrayals. Sadly, this was not the case for the character of Joy, who was supposed to be the star of the show. While my heart broke for the character, I was far too distracted by the glaring difference in the portrayals of Gab Pangilinan and Menchu Lauchengco-Yulo to fully appreciate the character.
The younger Joy was very upbeat and always delivered her dialogue and song numbers on a level 10. There was no softness to her performance. She was always belting out the songs. Of course, Gab was a good actress and delivered on the dramatic part quite well. However, her character suddenly became almost unrecognizable in adulthood. All of a sudden, her diction was perfect, her mannerisms were subdued and she was conversing with Anthony in straight English when her younger self was set up to be uneducated and unconfident with the language. Props though for the excellent vocals of Menchu Launchengo-Yulo. Adult Joy nailed every note.
A huge kudos for the performance of young theater actress Alexa Salcedo who played Joy’s daughter, Ligaya. This kid was a gem. Each line really stuck to the heart.
In terms of production, I felt that there may have been a limited budget for the stage and the costumes as the bulk of the budget may have been used to secure the rights to the music. However, the last part for the finale was a great touch. It served up the look and feel of an epic finale and it was what this stage musical needed to provide a justifiable enough closure to the tale of the four friends. Still, I felt that the ending did not serve the justice that Joy needed after all that she went through. It was whimsical, hopeful and stylish but at the end, it was a copout and much like the characters of Eman, Hector and Anthony, held no real substance.
Ang Huling El Bimbo is a worthy effort from Filipino production firm. It showcases Pinoy talent and what Filipino actors and producers can do given the right projects. Unfortunately, nostalgia was the best thing that Ang Huling El Bimbo had going for it because of its failure to create characters that can truly reach out and touch the audience. It was a well executed stage musical teeming with talent, true, but I apologize for not getting past the jerkfaces of lead characters that propelled this story forward.