Ang Huling El Bimbo The Musical will go down in history as the first original Filipino musical show I ever watched. I have to be honest and say how sceptical I was to watch a musical theatre piece inspired by the songs of a 90s rock band. This does not mean I do not love the songs of Eraserheads. How can I ever hate them if I grew up listening to my brothers sing great hits such as ‘Alapaap’, ‘Ligaya’, and ‘With a Smile’? Hearing the voice of Ely Buendia is more a norm than an exception for me. But I did not find the idea of incorporating the songs of a rock band to a coming-of-age story interesting. Fortunately, a rare occasion took place during the show: I was proven wrong.
I will not provide a synopsis in this write-up as I believe what made my experience special was the fact that I was completely clueless about the story. If you are planning to watch it, you can go on reading because I did my best not to give away too much about the plot of the show. I want you to be unsuspectingly crushed by the end of Act I and feel the trauma I experienced when the gang took that joyride to Antipolo. What follows is my reflection on the show:
Ang Huling El Bimbo is a radical examination of human relationship and conscience. Radical because it does not fudge the message of how every one of us tends to protect our lot first even if it means leaving some important people behind. It is easy to get furious at Hector (Gian Magdangal/Reb Atadero), Emman (Myke Salomon/Vic Robinson), and Anthony (Rafael Siguion-Reyna/Phi Palmos) because they are selfish and the worst oathbreakers. But aren’t we all? Have we all not refused to answer a friend’s call because we are so busy being an adult? The charm of the show lies in its capacity to wound our deepest emotional faculties and reveal what it means to be a good friend.
The entire show was a massive banter between the past and the present, and my favourite scene was when Hector, Emman, and Anthony confront their old selves to trace back how a harrowing event turned them into strangers. The exchange of dialogue creates a seamless flow of words as if the characters are having a conversation while they are separated by 20 years in time. And somehow, the scene urges the audience to do the same thing—to look back to the details of yesteryears, the ones we constantly avoid, in the hopes of addressing present issues.
Joy (Carla Guevara Laforteza/Tanya Manalang), the jilted friend who deserved better, was definitely the strength of the show. She was a victim but she was not a sorry victim. Joy has greater strength than all the people who promised and supposed to protect her. While Hector, Emman, and Anthony will eternally have a damaged conscience, Joy will be remembered for her strong will to start over again with her daughter Ligaya despite every vile challenge life has thrown at her way. She can confidently say that her tragedy was not because she lacked in good spirit, but because she failed to receive any external support which all human beings need to survive. The only flaw I can cite in Joy’s character is her excessive dependence on other people’s words. Her naiveté stole from her the ability to see how people constantly change, and that they are only as good as the last promise they made (or broke).
Ang Huling El Bimbo is teeming with symbolism which is not always culturally specific to Filipinos. For example, the idea of Hector, Emman, and Anthony forgetting the ‘Joy’ of their lives is a universal theme that shows how adulting takes away happiness from the psyche of a person and replaces it with a selfish obsession for career success.
The show highlights the importance of being surrounded by people who will support both our vision and mistakes. ‘No one ever said that there’s an easy way…’ says one of the iconic songs of Eraserheads. And it can’t be more perfect to articulate the greatest message of Ang Huling El Bimbo: life is one hell of a ride so we need friends to face it with. What sent me to crazy sobbing was when all three of Joy’s supposed friends refused to listen to what she has to say, deliberately missing every call she made. The ending would have been different if Hector, Emman, and Anthony became the friends they promised they would be. After the curtain call, I looked at my phone and promised to always answer it when a friend calls, with a smile.