The value of this musical goes beyond the music of the APO Hiking Society; that, being their music was one of those who shaped the local music industry back in the days, is just one of the main treats that this production can remind us of. 9 Works Theatrical and Globe Live!’s ETO NA! MUSIKAL nAPO! offers a jukebox spectacle, which rather exceeds our expectations. During a time when jukebox musicals breed like rabbits in Manila theater, this one effectively stretches nostalgia without being overly sentimental, and manages to connect, both with APO fans and new audiences.
The story couldn’t get any simpler. It tells about the beginnings of a group of seven young artists who chase their artistic ambitions amidst the adversity of Martial Law in the 70s. Rick, Butch and Sonny are trying to balance their music and their personal lives, each hoping to get the best of both worlds. Ray, a med student is trying to go after his own passion while obliging to his parents’ wishes that he pursues a career in medicine. And then we have Jaime, Donnie and Bobby, a lone trio at the backdrop supporting their friends with enthusiastic glee. As they journey from an unknown campus singing group to making it to the big stage, all seven friends question their dreams and align their purposes. Set in a time of uncertainty and social injustices, will they have the guts to face what’s really in store for them?
Working with dramaturg Jonjon Martin, writer and director Robbie Guevara has woven subtle, yet effective elements to drive home his point. ETO NA! blooms on the playful dynamics of adolescence, its era, music and feels. Guevara manages to offer just the right ingredients to balance his varying themes without being too dogmatic, thus, making ETO NA! an ultimate feel-good and a testament of how jukebox musicals should be. Like APO’s music, it is fun, dashing and nostalgic. And it doesn’t stop there. Here, we sit back and simply take everything in, without us knowing that behind each scene is a telling moral about our early years, and a glimpse at a history about a people during a time of violence and oppression.
Joey Mendoza’s set design makes one realize how such a simple platform can do so much for the material’s themes and characters. With minimal sets, we are drawn closely to the characters, making us a part of the group, and ultimately becoming part of the narrative, without dismissing that needed ‘unAPOlogetically’ nostalgic pull. That is why we silently sing along when we hear those familiar tunes, laugh at old-school jokes and even cry when tragedy strikes.
Mark Bautista, Jef Flores and Jon Abella play Rick, Jaime and Donnie, respectively, with considerable gusto. As the group’s story develops, Alfritz Blanche’s Sonny grows into that adorable lad we have in our own group of friends. Like Blanche, Jon Phillipe Go as Ray also has his moments as his character balances Guevara’s plot.
Worthy to mention are Jobim Javier as Butch and Sab Jose as Michelle. Here, Javier surprises his audiences with a debut performance that will be worth your while. As Butch, Javier depicts that familiar self-absorbed, overly-confident college jock, who soon finds himself on his knees for a girl named Michelle. And what a girl Michelle is. With an undeniable swooning stage charisma, Jose hyptnotizes – not just Butch – but her audiences as well. Here, Jose shows what ensemble acting should be: critical, yet well-blended; attached, yet individual.
Despite whatever generation we come from, this musical speaks and sings about our younger years. Though it uses the 70s backdrop, language and look, we still see our silly selves and laugh at our own forgotten absurdities and small triumphs. Beyond the dashing APO Hiking Society repertoire, ETO NA! MUSIKAL nAPO! reminds us of our own individual journeys to being who we are. Like Rick, Butch, Sonny, Jaime, Donnie and Bobby, we, too, once found ourselves in the middle of crossroads wearing a far too-unlikely hat, only to choose a new path that honed our present individualities.
Further, it talks about change and transformations. As we and our societies develop, we find new meanings and purpose, making us set newer directions to prove our undying ability to change for, what we think, is best for us all.
And that makes this original Filipino musical a class of its own.
Photos by Mr. Leo Castillo
Review Title by Ms. Joanna Katrina-Magalong