BWW Review: 'Eto Na! Musikal nAPO!' Has The Right Amount of Nostalgia To Its Advantage

BWW Review: 'Eto Na! Musikal nAPO!' Has The Right Amount of Nostalgia To Its AdvantageManila, Philippines--The good news is that "Eto Na! Musikal nAPO!," an original Filipino play set into music by APO Hiking Society's hit songs, is like no other OPM jukebox musical we have seen in recent memory. Most of the jukebox musicals staged in Manila have an entirely fictional story (e.g. "Ako si Josephine," "3 Stars and a Sun" ) or have a plot that's leaning towards social commentary (e.g "Rak of Aegis"), and, more often than not, try to repackage the sound of the original versions of the songs to make them more current and theatrical (e.g "Ang Huling El Bimbo," "I Remember a Boy"). In their first foray into producing an original material, 9 Works Theatrical and Globe Live go for a more sentimental story, an ultimate throwback to the mid-1970s, with a plot that's loosely based on the early years of the original members of the APO Hiking Society.

To transport the audience effectively to the mid-1970s, the libretto (Robbie Guevara, who also directs the show) is chock-full of 1970s references and antics. Because of the way the characters converse with each other (e.g. dehins, olats) and some glimpses of what living was like in that decade (e.g. Love Bus, party line), these ingredients in Guevara's script evidently generate laughs from the audience.

What is a let-down in this production is the plain and repetitive story (Guevara and JonJon Martin) of a barkada in college who endlessly worry about petty issues in their lives as they pursue their dream to become popular musicians. In fact, most of Guevara's characters are defined solely by the predicaments they're involved in. Take for instance the three lead characters: Rick (Mark Bautista) who is going through a rough patch with his girlfriend (Rita Daniela) because he's spending more time writing lyrics than to be with her, Sonny (Alfritz Blanche) who has to deal with a brewing long-distance relationship with his girlfriend (Marika Sasaki), and Butch BWW Review: 'Eto Na! Musikal nAPO!' Has The Right Amount of Nostalgia To Its Advantage(Jobim Javier) who is trying to win the heart of his campus crush (Sab Jose). Since these all happen during the early years of the Marcos dictatorship in the Philippines, the narratives involving these characters come off as unappealing. Worse, and we find it quite pathetic, is how these characters resolve these issues. Rick eventually leaves his bandmates and spends time with his girlfriend, Sonny suddenly decides to apply for a U.S. visa to follow his girlfriend in the States, and Butch invites his crush to a Tagaytay getaway. In short, the story is unapologetically burgis (a Filipino word referring to the privileged or upper-middle-class society).

Not that there is anything wrong with telling a story about the upper-middle-class. In fact, this is consistent with the inspiration of the musical (the members of the APO were schoolmates at the Ateneo de Manila University). But although these characters are aware of what is happening in the country, what we feel lacking in Guevara's direction is the desire to communicate to the audience that the aspirations of these teenagers are valid and not superficial. Thus, we're having difficulty finding the value in sharing their struggles.

With a surprise twist in Act 2, perhaps, the only character in the story that slightly deviates from the burgis narrative is that of Ray (earnest portrayal by Jon Philippe Go). Even with the disappearance of his character in Act 2, we feel that Guevara gives sufficient importance in Go's character that it actually becomes the one we're most BWW Review: 'Eto Na! Musikal nAPO!' Has The Right Amount of Nostalgia To Its Advantageendeared to. This observation actually makes us ponder whether this role should have been assigned to Bautista, for him to be fully noticed in this production. To our dismay, and possibly to his fans as well, Bautista's Rick is only given one solo number, which is "Nakapagtataka." Cinematic as the staging of that number was, it was not enough to sustain interest in his character.

The true standout in this show is Jobim Javier (in his professional theater debut) who gives an unpretentious portrayal to the character of Butch. It also helps that his team up with Jose effectively gives us the right mix of kilig and humor. Their theatrically-staged number, "Panalangin," and even their scene-stealing cameo in "Yakap sa Dilim" are two of the most well-executed moments in the show.

Other than the musical numbers we have previously mentioned and maybe with the addition of the early ballad "Batang-Bata Ka Pa," arranged as a duet and sung beautifully by mother-and-son Neomi Gonzales and Go, this musical runs out of solid and impactful performances. One reason for this is that the ensemble members are not landing on their harmonies, which is ironic since the singing group APO is supposedly known for having such a skill. Another reason we think is that PJ Rebullida's choreography does not go hand-in-hand with the song's new arrangements (Daniel Bartolome and Orly Dela Cruz).

Despite some setbacks, fans of APO need not worry because the new arrangements of their hits have kept the spirit of their original renditions. What propels you to enjoy this show from beginning to end is the right amount of nostalgia (credits to Eric Pineda's costumes and Joey Mendoza's set design) and a fitting finale that will surely make you get up from your seat and give an ovation.

"Eto na! Musikal nAPO!" runs until August 26 at the Maybank Performing Arts Theater in Taguig. Buy tickets (P1,500-P3,500) from TicketWorld.com.ph.

Photos: Leo Castillo

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