Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Eto na! Musikal nAPO, Nostalgia with a Purpose

Eto Na! Musikal nAPO opened last weekend with rave reviews. It was packaged efficiently as a fun loving musical featuring the timeless music of the APO Hiking Society but it happens to be more than that.  Minutes after seeing the press preview, I was  reminded  of a quote I randomly saw in Facebook. I googled  the words  "softness and strength"   because it was just the perfect set of words to describe this musical's overall message. It goes, " Be soft for the sake of every hard heart; show them with every movement  of your body  that gentle does not mean weak". This musical's walls were built  on laughter and it's spaces were filled with   catchy music  and delightful dancing. Every nook and corner was filled with cheeky mementos of the mid-seventies. It honestly had all the potential to simply be an enjoyable  but irrelevant fluff piece. Thankfully,  their house of theater  made good use of the lightness of being and sent out SEVERAL important uplifting messages. In the process of doing so they also succeeded in re-inscribing history, culture and politics. There are musicals that are sung in Filipino and then there are musicals  that carve out an identity for the Filipino.  Who would have thought that jokes  and good old APO music could be so important?! This musical just proves that art in its vulnerability is still certainly powerful  and so is every Juan De La Cruz. Needless to say, the collaboration between Nineworks Theatrical and Globe Live was a big win for theater and a big win for the Filipino. 

The story revolves around seven friends who share the love for music. Set in the seventies during the on-set of Martial Law, a group of friends discovered who they all wanted to be when they set out on a journey. All seven committed to joining a song writing and singing competition. The group was bonded but they were in  way divided in two groups, the naturals and the follower.  Sonny (Alfritze Blanche) was  the talented composer  of the group. Rick ( Mark Bautista) their go to guy for lyrics.  Ray (Jon Philippe Go) was the young but skilled musical arranger of the group. Butch (Jobim Javier) was the sweet singing  playboy. Then there were the witty and supportive followers  tongue tied mover  Fil-Am Javier( Jeff Flores),  small but terrible Bobby (Vyen Villanueva) and secret lyricist Donnie (Jon Abella).  Their journey to the competition was disturbed by the love predicaments of the naturals.They were also left scarred by an unfortunate incident caused by  by Martial Law.  At the end of this musical, the competing group was left with the followers pursuing their  goal driven by a new purpose.  They found themselves writing their own song challenging  what they thought was uneccaptable norms. They won. All if a sudden they had a platform to share with others their music through TV. In the end, the trio was left with the realization that fear was unnecessary. Their  song won because people believed in their message and in their music. They were not alone. They were no longer followers but leaders in their own right.  

Message Received 

What is nice about the story that  Robbie Guevara and Jon Jon Martin crafted is that it highlights the underdogs as the last men standing. There was a point in the story where Javier, Bobby and Donnie question  if they could still win  with their strongest members out. Javier states, we have a purpose and that's all we need to succeed. In the play, political unrest was troubling but the three with purity of heart braved it out and sang about  their distaste for current social and political landscape. Their youth or skills were no longer something that could hold them back because the opportunity was there to rise up and they grabbed it.   It's a beautiful message to share. There are no little guys only little dreams.

Batang Bata ako nalalaman ko to
Inamin ko rin na kulang ang aking nalalaman
Ngunit kahit ganayan and kinalalagyan alam ko
na may karapatan ang bwat nilalang
kahit bata pa man kahit bata bpa man.

Throughout the play, the cast would always blurt out "Bawal Magmura". Each time there would be small reminder that things could be said a better way, things could be done a kinder way. I love that very slight hint of how vulgarity was unacceptable then and certainly it should be unacceptable now. It was a purposeful reminder done in such a witty way. I appreciate the unapologetic opinion against Martial Law as well. 

Another point that was well taken was that there is a need to look back at the past. The past should be relished, enjoyed understood and protected. In the beginning the gang cleverly starts with the first song being "Lumang Tugtugin" (Old Songs) bringing back tunes like "Leron Leron Sinta". It appropriately grounded and prepared the audience for the throwback to APO's own music. It's a reminder that we should never forget traces of who we are. 

Throwback Thursday

Perfectly timed on a Thursday, the musical was filled with nostalgia.  Eliciting laughter was the constant references to how Manila used to be back in the seventies.  It was  a  adorable poke at the primitive past with telephone booths, love buses and partylines.  Surely familiarity made it a hit  for audiences of that generation. At the same time the throwback in contrast to present  ridiculously complicated times was quite funny too. The witty references were almost like a meticulous education  of social climate of that time.  It was very intelligently  written and the relatability factor was  on point. Everything was easy to digest. 


The homage to the APO Original Pinoy Music was exemplary .Thanks to Daniel Bartolome ( Musical Director) the  songs' melodies were not overpowered by the changes made to adapt to a theatrical staging. Songs were seemlesly incorporated into the story. Some of the songs were sung in a different perspective and context. It refreshing to witness something new. More importantly it highlighted  the universality of APO's music. Collectively,  cast was committed to singing the songs harmoniously. There were however undeniable standouts. Newbie Jobim Javier nailed all of his songs with gusto. For a newbie in theatre, there was absolutely no trace of hesitation or self-doubt in his performance.  His comical timing, suave physicality and strong voice really gave life to his character "Butch". Watching him approach theater with so much joy and energy was exhilarating. The Sonny and Jane tandem played by Afritze Blanch and Marika Sasaki was too cute for words. The chemistry was believable and their contrast hilarious. Blanch was the ultimate leading man. Sasaki fit the doe-eyed loyal girlfriend to a tee. Their duet "Show me a Smile" made me smile.   Jeff Flores was adorable as Javier. I would think it was a breeze for him as the  role was  almost tailor made to his reality. Energetic funny singer who came from the states who speaks tongue twisting Tagalog, easily Jeff Flores. The most memorable scene for me was not from the cast leads but from Raul Montesa who plays  the father of Ray. He sang the song "Pag-ibig" with so much authenticity that it broke me. Truly I was inconsolable  for a couple of minutes.  This is the first time I have seen Montesa perform in a tagalog musical and I was beyond impressed by his capacity to silence an audience with his powerful facility. What a gift to see this man perform in his native tongue.

Alfritz Blanche as Sonny and Marika Sasaki as Jane 

Jobim Javier as Butch 

I wouldn't say the musical was  perfection personified but it was nostalgia done well and with purpose. A little refinement in scene transitions, a little polishing in the group scenes and maybe a bit more light in some group scenes  would be advantageous. As it is, the musical was light and entertaining yet relevant and absolutely timely. It seems Nineworks Theatrical and Globe live wanted to emulate the spirit of APO Hiking society. Their updated KKK outlook was replaced by the producers' CCC. They were creative, collaborative and courageous. Bravissimo. Thank you for choosing to use gentle,soft heartwarming  art for a greater purpose. 

Catch Eto na! Musikal nAPO! at the Maybank Performing Arts Theater from August 3 to 26, 2018. Tickets sell at Php 1,500 (Zone D), Php 2,200 (Zone C), Php 3,000 (Zone B), and Php 3,500 (Zone A) and may be purchased from Ticketword at 891-9999.