Thursday, August 2, 2018

Review of Globe Live/9 Works' ETO NA! MUSIKAL nAPO: Birth of a Band

August 3, 2018

It was 1975 at a university campus, where a group of close musician friends get together for the first day of school. They were very excited about a news article that a local record company was launching a nationwide singing and songwriting contest. However, when lyricist Rick, composer Sonny and playboy Butch have problems with their girlfriends and pre-med student Ray with his strict father, the other members of the band Jaime (the Fil-Am with crooked Tagalog), Donnie (the methodical one) and Bobby (the shortest one) step up to create and finalize their song for competition. 

The biggest attraction of this show is its music. The music of the Apo Hiking Society (Danny Javier, Jim Paredes and Boboy Garrovillo) was the soundtrack of Filipinos growing up in the 1970s to the 1990s. A couple of tribute albums were released in the first decade of the new millennium. Many of their songs became big hits on the radio and up to now, in karaoke machines. Except for three songs in Act 2, I knew all the other 20 big hit songs used in the context of the story in this musical. I have to admit that it was very hard to keep from singing along to these beloved songs of my youth. 

The Whole Gang 
(L-R: Villanueva, Bautista, Flores, Go, Abella, Javier and Blanche)

There were three love stories that make up the main bulk of the story. Rick's passion in writing song lyrics was already making his girlfriend Anna feel ignored, via the painful songs "Tuyo ng Damdamin" and "Nakapagtataka." Sonny was feeling insecure when his girlfriend Jane announced that her family was moving to the US, via songs "Show Me a Smile" and "Paano." Butch believed he had just met the "one" in pretty classmate Michelle, but she is in a relationship with campus basketball jock Barney. via songs "Mahirap Magmahal ng Syota ng Iba" and "Panalangin." All three pairs sing "Ewan" to close the first act, not knowing how their love stories would go.

Mark Bautista and Rita Daniela

Through the character of Ray, the story delved into two other types of drama kids in the 1970s went through. First was about the conflicts between young musicians and their parents about the practicality of a career in music, with the song "Batang Bata Ka Pa" conveying the sentiments on both sides. Even if several references to Marital Law (the curfew, the Metrocom, the community service, etc) were mentioned, the violent consequences of Martial Law would be highlighted in a most unexpectedly emotional rendition of the ballad "Pag-ibig." 

Alfritz Blanche and Marika Sasaki

Despite his distracting wig, pop star Mark Bautista was a natural playing the erstwhile leader of their gang, Rick. His solo rendition of "Di Na Natuto" was a highlight of Act 1. Big boy Alfritz Blanche had been in the ensemble in previous plays I had seen him in, but here he actually gets a major career break to play one of the romantic leads, Sonny, and pretty much nailed it in his own teddy-bear-like way. The biggest revelation of the cast was stage newcomer Jobim Javier (son of Apo Danny Javier himself) as Butch. The young Javier owned the stage with his innate swagger, comic timing, as well as his solid singing voice. 

Jobim Javier

Jon Phillip Go played the conflicted student Ray. His background is more of singer than as actor, but he got to figure in some pretty heavy scenes. He has a crystal clear tenor that stood out. Jef Flores, Jon Abella and Vyen Villanueva play the other three members of the band, mostly in the background in Act I, but will gain more stage time in Act II. All three of them got to show off their singing and dancing prowess as well.

Vyen Villanueva, Jon Abella and Jef Flores

Sab Jose (Michelle), Marika Sasaki (Jane), and especially Rita Daniela (Anna) were all given a song each for their singing voices to shine. Raul Montesa and Neomi Gonzales played Ray's parents (as well as teachers and other older characters). Montesa only had one solo song number but it packed a heavy punch. Gonzales played a sickly coughing mother character but with an ethereal voice (much like she also did in "Rak of Aegis").

Neomi Gonzales and Jon Phillip Go

The other members of the ensemble were Peachy Atilano- Guevara, Gian Gloria, Shalee Vicencio, Anton Posadas, Jourdan Bartolome and Derrick Gozos, who played the other students in the school, as well as the singing emcees of the TV show "Campus Cafeteria" (referencing "Student Canteen," perhaps?).

Set designer Joey Mendoza and costume designer Eric Pineda were careful with period details. In true 70s fashion, the boys mostly had long-hair, and wore bell-bottom jeans and colorful Nik-nik shirts with wide collars, buttoned only half way up. The script had a lot of local references about the 70s, from the Love Bus to Budji Wara. They joked about the travel time from Greenhills to Guadalupe or mall built during the "Thrilla in Manila." 

The Ensemble
(Atilano-Guevara, Batolome, Gozos, Gloria, Posadas, Vicencio)

Except for one very serious scene in Act 2 bathed in red light. the general mood of the show is youthful, light and breezy, set by songs like "Blue Jeans" and "Salawikain." It tends to be sentimental about friendship with songs about friendship, with songs like "Awit ng Barkada" and "Saan Na Nga Ba?"  The humor was generally wholesome, but there were also some naughty double entendre wisecracks or amusing raunchy antics, accompanied by songs like "Kabilugan ng Buwan" and "Yakap sa Dilim." 

Original Apos Jim Paredes and Boboy Garrovillo in the house last night!
(photo credit: Harry H.)

The show was directed by Robbie Guevara, who also wrote the book, with Jonjon Martin as dramaturg. (Act 2 may need some streamlining of the script to make the storytelling tighter.) The musical arrangements and orchestrations were by musical director Daniel Bartolome with Orly dela Cruz. (The finale medley had some awkward segues which may need some adjustments.) The story about friendship may have multi-generational appeal, but it will definitely connect more with people who grew up with the music of the Apo Hiking Society for whom this show is one major nostalgia trip. 


"Eto Na! Musikal nAPO" runs from August 3 - 26, 2018 at the MAYBANK PERFORMING ARTS THEATER in 26th St. corner 9th Ave. in Bonifacio Global City. Show times are 8 pm on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, with 3 pm matinees on Saturdays and Sundays. Tickets are available on Ticketworld, prices range from ₱3,500, ₱3,000, ₱2,200 and ₱1,500.

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