It was easy for Eraserheads fans to fall for “Ang Huling El Bimbo,” the nostalgic musical which sold out shows at Resorts World Manila last year.
The choreography of director Dexter Santos and musical arrangement by Mike Salomon were amazing, but the heart of the musical was lost in the cluttered and confusing storytelling.
Santos wanted to fix those issues in the rerun, ongoing until April 7 at the Newport Performing Arts Center, so his team—E’heads fans but not fanatics—consulted with dramaturg Floy Quintos.
“We were so in love with the work,” Santos said. “But we knew we had to streamline the material even if we’ve been selling out performances.”
Quintos trimmed the excesses, then updated the book by Dingdong Novenario for a clearer transition between two timelines, which are 20 years apart.
El Bimbo v.2
Everyone who lived in the ’90s has an Eraserheads song pinned to a particular memory.
The band, composed of vocalist Ely Buendia, drummer Raimund Marasigan, bassist Buddy Zabala and guitarist Marcus Adoro, created the classic Pinoy coming-of-age soundtrack. For many, “El Bimbo” is a personal musical, a homecoming show. (Buendia joined the cast during the encore of the 2018 gala night.)
The 2019 incarnation of “Ang Huling El Bimbo” has a more cohesive narrative. It’s still a story of three friends—Hector, Emman and Anthony—but it’s clear now that it’s the journey of Joy, the woman who sings “Ligaya” as her mantra.
Joy symbolizes the muse in the iconic song “Ang Huling El Bimbo” who died in an unfortunate alley somewhere in Ermita. Santos said that at the end of the show, it’s really about reintroducing the music of Eraserheads to millennials —and taking a stand.
“Ang Huling El Bimbo” has evolved into a grittier piece. It tackles at length the war on drugs, misogyny, the padrino system and corruption in government.
“We’re not afraid anymore,” Santos said. “We got the support of Resorts World and are serving the story, might as well bite our teeth into it.”
Santos added that “El Bimbo” is more relevant, even if the stagings are barely a year apart: “The music of Eraserheads resonated with the challenges of our time, so we used it now as a very important tool in addressing issues in society.”
Since the material has more “courage and weight,” Salomon tweaked the arrangement to follow Quintos’ flow, then coordinated with the Manila Philharmonic Orchestra in presenting haunting melodies.
The actors delivered, and characterization has been “supplied,” Salomon warned: “Kung gaano kasaya ’yung friendship nila sa Act 1, gan’on din nila babaragin y’ung audience sa Act 2.”
The musical director is also acting this time as Hector, describing the experience as “funny-hard,” since he has to guide himself on stage.
Other new cast members are Nicco Manalo, Lance Reblando, David Ezra, Phi Palmos, Rafa Siguion-Reyna, Gabriella Pangilinan and Carla Guevara-Laforteza. Actors reprising their roles are Gian Magdangal, OJ Mariano, Jon Santos, Reb Atadero, Boo Gabunada, Bibo Reyes, Tanya Manalang and Menchu Lauchengco-Yulo who is also associate director.
“Ang Huling El Bimbo” is an original Filipino musical that delivers drama, humor, romance and a political message through the familiar comfort of Eraserheads songs.
The merch improved, too: cast recording CD (P700), shirt (P700), jacket (P1,500), yearbook program (P300) and mugs (P200) are all available at Tindahan ni Aling Nena.
“Ang Huling El Bimbo” is on stage Thursday-Sunday until April 7 at Resorts World Manila, Pasay City. The March 31, 8 p.m. show, will benefit Inquirer Foundation. Tel. 9088833; visit www. ticketworld.com.ph.