Saturday, July 21, 2018

Ang Huling El Bimbo (Resorts World Manila)


Covered with newspapers, a woman’s corpse lies motionless in a dark alley. Three men are invited to the police station for questioning. Emman (OJ Mariano), Anthony (Jon Santos), and Hector (Gian Magdangal) have not seen one another for a few decades now and identifying an old friend’s dead body in a morgue is probably not the best venue for a reunion party. As they bicker over unfinished business and grudges past, they can’t help but recall their carefree college days back when they would spend lunch breaks and study sessions at Toyang’s, an eatery run by Joy’s (Tanya Manalang) Aunt Dely (Sheila Francisco) where a young Anthony (Topper Fabregas) becomes the BFF; Emman (Boo Gabunada), the older brother from another mother; and Hector (Bibo Reyes), the love interest harboring a secret crush. As they go on a joyride to Antipolo to celebrate graduation day, what could have been a lovely evening ends in tragedy, and their relationship as friends will never be the same again.

Don’t get me wrong, the casting is brilliant, but weird. Mariano and Lauchengco-Yulo do look the part. Both can pass off as middle-aged without much violent reaction. Magdangal and Santos, on the other hand, seem a bit off. The former looks so young. The latter looks too old. Again, this is not a big issue because they give their roles justice anyway. Even so, it is a bit strange given how the younger cast members do not have this obvious age disparity. Maybe Hector has a stylist and can afford to look young? He is an in-demand director after all. Perhaps Anthony aged way faster than the rest because of all the stress he had to deal with hiding in the closet? A simple Google search will reveal that Lauchengco-Yulo and Santos are both in their 50’s while Mariano and Magdangal are in their 30’s.

Another observation which they couldn’t have done much about because of plot requirements is Lauchengco-Yulo's late entrance. It just feels like the audience does not get to spend enough time to warm up to her as an older version of the character the same way they do with the other three guys who are introduced early on. As such, whatever impact expected from her particular subplot does not seem to have that much of an effect, with her even being used as a mere plot device toward the end. This is no spoiler since it is in the song anyway, but Joy somehow got fridged.

As for the younger version of the cast, it is such a delight to listen to Eraserheads classics styled differently. Manalang is amazing. With her voice soaring, she brings the likes of Alapaap and With a Smile to new heights, giving you goosebumps at certain points. Some of the songs are sung collectively, Ang Huling El Bimbo itself getting the chorale treatment. The harmony and blending of voices give you a new appreciation of the songs, making some of them even more haunting than they already are. Choreography also plays a vital role in numbers such as Tindahan Ni Aling Nena, which is perhaps one of the musical’s most memorable sequences because it’s just so lively and eye-popping.

In terms of production design, Resorts World’s theater benefits from a huge stage with a revolving platform in the middle, and these are maximized to full extent for the musical’s benefit. The rotating floor is used as a plot device more than once to imply distance or depict the passing of time. Think of it as an onstage equivalent of a film montage. Sets are designed as functional backdrops on both sides depending on what the scene requires, the floor doing most of the work as it gradually spins to find the right angle. Multiple sets are also seen onstage at once, some of them differing in either time or venue.

Ang Huling El Bimbo is just one of a few songs that exceed five minutes, yet it never fails to send shivers down your spine even if you play it over and over again. It must have something to do with the lyrics dealing with guilt and regret, a potent combo which leaves you swimming in a puddle of shoulda-woulda-coulda that can break even the toughest soul. Or maybe it’s that somber tone punctuated by the shrieking violins or whatever string instrument it is that they used in the musical accompaniment to pierce your heart repeatedly. That a spinoff in any other medium should come along as a form of tribute is not really a matter of if but rather when. The time has come. Now off to Resorts World you go!

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