Pare ko, meron akong problema
I was introduced to the Eraserheads when I was in high school—some will say I was a little late in the game, but at least I was in it. My economics teacher brought his guitar to class one day and sang us Pare Ko; I forget why he did but I was hooked. I have since spent countless hours listening to their songs over and over. You can only imagine how thrilled I was when I learned that Ang Huling El Bimbo was being put on stage.
Ang Huling El Bimbo was and is described as a jukebox musical that tells a story of friendship through the songs of the Eraserheads (pretty true). It was written by Dingding Novenario and directed and choreographed by Dexter Santos (definitely true). The production first opened in 2018 and had another run in 2019; in 2020, while we were all at home and looking for something to keep us busy, it was available for streaming on YouTube (it isn’t anymore).
Disclaimer: Spoilers (and a rant) ahead
Ngunit ang paborito
Ay pagsayaw mo ng El Bimbo
I will give Ang Huling El Bimbo the praise that it deserves. On stage, it was brilliantly acted and danced and sung. I remember falling a little bit in love with all the characters—Joy, AJ, Emman and Hector in all of their life stages—as they formed their bond and tried to make it through college and life. There was, as promised, that story of friendship. Everything was good and fun just as a jukebox musical should be. But then it wasn’t.
By the end of the first act, Ang Huling El Bimbo takes a pretty dark turn. On a road trip to I forget where, the four protagonists stop atop a mountain, looking out at a view that was spectacularly created on stage. But then they get disturbed in a sudden shift and AJ, Emman and Hector are held at gunpoint while Joy is raped.
What follows is a story of how those four tried to move past that fateful night and the varying lives that they lived after (and the tragedy that brings that back together).
Taga-hugas ka raw ng pinggan sa may Ermita
At isang gabi'y nasagasaan sa isang madilim na eskinita
Lahat ng pangarap ko'y bigla lang natunaw
Sa panaginip na lang pala kita maisasayaw
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If we’re talking performance, direction, stage production, choreography—I will give it to Ang Huling El Bimbo. It was a wonderful experience to see everything unfold on a real stage. The music that I loved was not misplaced and seamlessly worked their way into the story and actors gave justice to the discography that defined a generation. And I know none of you asked, but my favorite was the performance of Pare Ko in the first act.
But that damn plot twist.
That plot twist right smack in the middle of viewing is something that no one in the audience is ready for (unless, you know, spoilers) and knocked me out from enjoying the entirety of it. Was it relevant? Yes. Was it trying to say something? Yes, plenty. But did it also deter the enjoyability? Fuck yes. I was on a high—we all were—and then our hearts got broken and our mindset was shifted.
I get the point and I get the direction, but I am still disturbed, even two years after. Not just by the rape, but by the depiction of women in general. Impoverished women being sexually harassed, constantly repressed by men. The acceptance of a life that is illegal and frowned upon and yet encouraged behind closed doors. The inability to do more and actually move forward. How easy it was to cut ties just because one night was too much—and for whom, the men? The rape was too much for them?
I went for a good time and I’m still reeling from the realizations. Is that when you know something is good? Perhaps. But a little warning (and some sensitivity) would have been great. The payment of having those scenes etched to some of my favorite songs just doesn’t seem worth it.
Art Alexandra Lara