You know what they say: Third time’s a charm.
If you’re about to see something for the third time, you probably wouldn’t expect too many changes.
But let me tell you this: I’ve seen Ang Huling El Bimbo (AHEB) The Musical live thrice (and one online), and none of the shows were exactly the same.
I’ve seen Joy, Hector, Emman and Anthony—young and old—played by different actors on stage. And while the audience may have their preferred actor for each role, each portrayal was endearing in its own way.
This season of AHEB the Musical welcomes new cast members such as singer-songwriter Bullet Dumas as Emman, theater actor and The Voice finalist Nino Alejandro as Anthony, The Clash grand finalist Anthony Rosaldo as the young Hector, Gawad Buhay awardee Paw Castillo as the young Emman and voice teacher Katrine Sunga as Joy.
Castillo and Dumas feign the authenticity and idealism of a provincial lad who travels to the city to get a proper education in the hopes of serving his country. Alejandro, on the other hand, transformed the young Anthony into a self-loathing yet arrogant adult, his eyes brimming with both sadness and disdain for the life he has been forced to lead. And Sunga, as Joy, overflows with the strength and courage of a woman hardened by unfavorable circumstances but repeatedly rises above the surface for the sake of her child.
The old cast members, stellar in previous runs, shine even more brightly this season.
Gab Pangilinan is such an exuberant young Joy. The role fits her to a T. It’s amazing how her face can light up an entire theater —all that innocence and optimism in her smile and in her gaze—and then visibly transform into a catch basin of sorrow and despair, tragedy reflected in her eyes. The transformation is drastic, and you can feel—not just see—it.
Gian Magdangal is every bit the proud and overly ambitious Hector. He is so indifferent, it’s annoying. In this role, he successfully fools the audience into thinking he is devoid of any emotion. But when it is time to finally unleash Hector’s emotions, Magdangal lets them flow so effortlessly—through song. It’s not just the caliber of Magdangal’s voice that makes his solos so powerful, but also, the palpable anguish and guilt, embedded in every note and lyric.
Sheila Francisco, as Joy’s aunt, Tiya Dely, is disarming. Tiya Dely’s charm, wit, and joie de vivre are infectious, but it is her resilience and wisdom that makes her not just the necessary pillar of strength in Joy’s life but also, an essential character in the story.
And then there’s Jamie Wilson as Sgt. Banlaoi, a truly detestable villain spewing negative energy across the stage and eliciting disgust from the audience. He has no redeeming value; he is evil in human form. He is the villain everyone loves, and also the kind you’d wish you’d never come across in real life.
This show is by far, the best among the versions of Ang Huling El Bimbo the Musical I’ve seen. If my memory serves me right, some of the musical arrangements in the first run sounded as if they had somehow lost the essence of the originals they were derived from. The edgy, alt-rock feel of the Eraserheads’ songs was dissolved too thinly to make way for other musical elements. This time, however, there is balance.
The orchestra was excellent. The rise and fall of emotions moved in sync with the music. The musical arrangements, song, and dance numbers, call-and-response in the dialogue and the tug-of-war between the characters, and even the blocking and transitions between scenes, all blended seamlessly into an immensely satisfying whole. There were a few additional touches here and there, a line or a gesture or a lyric to bridge gaps in the sequences. Some of the existing scenes, more graphic in previous runs, have been sanitized, perhaps to make the show better suited for younger viewers.
Ang Huling El Bimbo the Musical returns stronger this season, finally hitting the sweet spot. Whether you’ve seen it or not, returning to the Newport Theater to see this OPM and theater milestone will be worth your while and your standing ovation.