Photos by Leo Castillo
For older fans of the Apo Hiking Society including this writer, the storyline presented in Eto Na! Musikal nAPO! has a familiar ring to it.
Not too many may know, especially the millennials, that during the early part of their career, the Apo was not always the popular trio composed of Jim Paredes, Danny Javier and Boboy (sometimes spelled Buboy) Garrovillo. They actually had several other members including the late Ric Segreto and Butch Dans, who later became their manager.
Their original name was Apolinario Mabini Hiking Society, named after the national hero known as the Sublime Paralytic. Hiking Society was, of course, a humorous reference to Mabini’s inability to walk, which many will now consider as politically incorrect. Not that it had any effect on the fans’ affection to their music.
The trio was also known for doing a good number of non-music projects including movies like Joey Gosiengfiao’s Blue Jeans and Mike de Leon’s Kung Mangarap Ka’t Magising (only Boboy and Danny) and the short-lived sitcom Coed Blues where they all portrayed college students.
Why bring up all of this? Because whether coincidental or not, these pivotal and largely forgotten phases of the Apo’s career are nicely incorporated in the jukebox musical inspired by their music. It’s no surprise that the first song number is “Blue Jeans.”
Set in the mid-‘70s during Martial Law, Eto Na! MusikalnAPO! follows the story of seven college buddies who have decided to join a songwriting contest where among the prizes up for grabs is a recording contract.
Not all of them, however, are fully committed to the contest. Ray (played with wide-eyed enthusiasm by Jon Philippe Go) who is tasked to arrange their entry, has to deal with the mounting medical bills of his sick mom (Neomi Gonzales) in addition to living up to the high expectations of his stern dad (Raul Montesa). He also has an issue with the Marcos government that his friends are not aware of.
Lyricist Rick (Mark Bautista) and composer Sonny (Alfritz Blanche) have issues of their own to deal with involving their respective girlfriends. One of them, Anna (Rita Daniela), laments that Rick no longer has time for her; the other, Jane (Marika Sasaki), intends to finish her studies in the States.
Meanwhile, another member of the group, Butch (Danny Javier’s son Jobim Javier stealing every scene he’s in in a standout performance), is lovestruck with Michelle (a luminous Sab Jose), who just happens to be attached with the campus jock. That leaves the familiarly named Jaime (Jef Flores), Donnie (Jon Abella) and Bobby (Vyen Villanueva) to soldier on and ultimately pick up the slack.
The story makes enough sense but is also spotty in parts. Only in the opening number is it hinted that the mild-mannered Ray is rebelling against Ferdinand Marcos, and while it’s understandable that his parents are not aware of his activism, it’s hard to believe that his closest friends are in the dark about it as well.
And while John Philippe Go delivers an invested performance, the character is not fully developed as he is neither shown to be passionate about the music nor about his activism.
As intriguing as his story is, it seems to belong to another musical altogether.
What works best for Eto Na! Musikal nAPO! are two things. First is the nostalgia factor as further amped by Joey Mendoza’s very ‘70s set design including an oversized public pay phone (yes, the iconic red one), as well as the colorful costumes created by Eric Pineda.
The show is also loaded with mid-‘70s references to the Love Bus, the Thrilla in Manila and Martial Law’s curfew, as well as catchphrases like “walastik” and “ye ye Vonnel” that only the baby boomers and the Martial Law babies in the audience may recognize.
And then, there’s the music. Apo is, of course, best known for classic love songs like “Show Me A Smile,” “Mahirap Magmahal ng Syota ng Iba,” “Panalangin,” “Tuyo Na’ng Damdamin,” “Paano,” “Nakapagtataka,” “When I Met You.”
The songs “Pumapatak ang Ulan,” “Kabilugan ng Buwan” and “Yakap sa Dilim” are put to good use in a show-stopping medley involving the three couples.
Because of the many songs used in the musical, it is understandable that accomplished singers like Mark Bautista, Rita Daniela and Marika Sasaki do not get enough highlights.
They managed to make the most out of their given moments though.
As for song selection, all the big hits are here with the inclusion of lesser-known gems like “Suntok sa Buwan,” “Inaamin Ko” and “Heto Na,” a welcome surprise.
For sure, there are also some notable omissions and it would have been great if other Apo favorites like “New Day,” “Love is For Singing,” “Hanggang May Pag-Ibig,” “Bakit ang Babae sa Tagal ng Pagsasama Tila Mas Mahirap Maintindihan,” “Prinsesa,” “Hiwaga,” “Mag-Artista Ka,” and “Araw” were also considered.
But these songs and more can probably be reserved for another Apo musical. The timeless value of the trio’s music has given way to an earlier acclaimed film (I Do Bidoo Bidoo: Heto nApo Sila) and now this musical that features two different storylines. Who’s to say we won’t see a third Apo musical either on film or on stage in the not-so-distant future?
Presented by Globe Live and 9 Works Theatrical, Eto Na! Musikal nAPO! will run until 26 August at the Maybank Performing Arts Theater in Bonifacio Global City. For ticket information, visit www.ticketworld.com.ph.