Due to the high expectations that I have set for the production who staged Broadway musicals like ‘RENT’, ‘The Wedding Singer’,‘Sweet Charity’, ‘They’re Playing Our Song’, ‘Grease’, ‘The Last Five Years’, ‘La Cage aux Folles’, ‘American Idiot’, ‘Tick, Tick… Boom’, ‘Newsies’—9 Works Theatrical has never failed in its own interpretations of such productions. With the company’s first-ever, new and all-original Filipino musical—‘Heto Na! Musikal nAPO!’ is something I was nervous, but was easily overtaken by its impressive show on Thursday evening, August 2 at the Maybank Performing Arts Theater.
Anyone who would encounter the new production set in the 70s will always suspect of subversive theme about Martial Law in that era. The playwright and director Robbie Guevara may have painted it in its background, but it still managed to entertain, celebrate and honor the timeless (still relevant) brand of music by the APO Hiking Society. It’s good that its treatment is slightly funny, but somewhere in its latter parts—it’s surprisingly heavy in what it intended to convey.
Clearly a ‘Barkada’ Feel Show.
Knowing about how colorful college life is, and how it is to live in those times, amid the autocratic administration of Marcos in the 70s, the lives of the seven male leads compose of Rick (Mark Bautista), Ray (Jon Philippine Go), Butch (Jobim Javier), Sonny (Alfritz Blanche), Jaime (Jef Flores), Donnie (Jon Abella), and Bobby (Vyen Villanueva). The barkada is loosely based on the early beginnings of Filipino musical group called APO (an Ilocano term for a wise man or a Tagalog term of grandchildren, and later re-branded to ‘APO’).
The show opened with an overture of APO’s hit songs and there was singing and dancing to the tune of ‘Blue Jeans’, to which it kind of set the mode—of how these young students bond each other by making music together. At least, it started out quite on the right footing. It allowed the audience especially those who knew the song to sing-along with the whole cast. It’s hard to resist not to sing especially if one has grown with the song back then.
What was most engaging about this part was how it managed to introduce the seven male leads having each of their moments onstage. None were left out. Then, they were united in one goal—to submit an entry for the first national singing and songwriting competition mounted by Vicor Music Corporation. So the group agreed that Rick will take on writing the lyrics, Sonny for the music and Ray for arranging the voices.
Beneath the excitement of these young men, they live in the times when Martial Law was in placed. Though Filipinos at the time tried to live normal lives—there were still times that they fear of being questioned especially when Metrocom police picked up men and women during curfew hours and held them for custody. By then, people are forced to be inside their homes at the stroke of midnight.
When there’s ‘Barkada’, there are always Love Stories.
Typical of any story, there will always be romance. Guevara who penned and directed the musical was brilliant enough to incorporate three love stories—the one with Rick and Anna, Sonny and Jane, and Butch and Michelle. Among the three pairs, what hooked me was that of BuChelle (Jobim Javier and Sab Jose) tandem. Personally, I am just a sucker of the kind of drama that happens between a happy-go-lucky guy meets a pretty and smart lady. Maybe among the three pairs, for me—their kind of relationship has more maturity (that’s just me).
Besides, who would not love the pair of Javier (the son of one of the remaining members of APO) and Jose. Both were a delight to watch. Butch is a playboy who eventually fell in love with a lass who challenged him and taught him to fight for his feelings. Their pair reached to the point that both had to make a major decision as opposed to the two other pairs.
Sab as Michelle coming from her masters in musical theater and graduated with honors from honors at the Guilford School of Acting in London—has given her that ‘readiness’ to standout without even exerting much efforts. Her aura just exudes onstage. Meanwhile her partner, Butch, which Jobim effectively breathed into the role—he just owned the stage; enjoying every bit of the music that his dad once have popularized back then.
The song ‘Panalangin’ was way fitted for BuChelle’s tandem.
Struggles are Still Relevant even today’s setting.
As a viewer, I was only limited to identifying with few characters and that included Ray’s, his dad Mon. As someone who grew up with a strict parent, particularly my father—I could actually resonate with. Without giving away how the relationship between Mon and Ray turned out to be—it provided the much dramatic part of the musical.
Having the song ‘Batang-Bata Ka Pa’ as its vehicle to establish the father-and-son relationship is already one statement that the musical is trying to convey even until these day and age of Duterte administration. Though it may not have declared Martial Law, some of today’s scenario may well remind the people even the younger generation that strong military presence is being felt.
A pressing issue that still haunts the Filipino people is the oppression of armed forces toward helpless and powerless individuals. Despite one sad news that rocked the lives of the characters in this production—it still provided the audience with a better view through the birth of the three remaining members of the musical group—Jaime, Donnie and Bobby.
In the finale, it showed that through music, the lives of those who were victimized by a government that violated human rights and lives—will continue to find its way in fighting for justice, for freedom and for real peace and order in this land of ours. That song that serves as an anchor between Mon and Ray—is a powerful reminder that the younger generation may not totally comprehend what it was to live in fear back then; would one day come to see the light and take flight; and fight for every inch of human right.
‘Heto Na! Musikal nAPO!’ may seem fun to see, but it is like a half-cocked gun. It is just waiting to explode amd hit where it is really aimed to strike in order to permeate even into the darkest scenarios of Philippine politics. The musical is like the ‘Mama Mia’ of Broadway. It cradled innocence, but at the same time it nurtured vigilance to protect the nation from any form of violence.
APO’s songs may not be all that radical, but the mere presence of the remaining three members do mirror what it is to be able to speak and express what it is to be alive back in the 70s and even today.
The Globe Live co-production will run from August 3-5, 10-12, 17-19 and 24-26, 201 at 8:00pm on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, and matinees at 3:00pm on Saturdays and Sundays. For tickets, contact TicketWorld at (632) 891.9999.