Gab Pangilinan brings ‘Joy’ to life

Gab Pangilinan (Photo by Stephen Viñas)

Still one of the most talked about theater productions is the ongoing staging of Ang Huling El Bimbo, the jukebox musical based on the well-loved songs of the Eraserheads.

And one of the big reasons is lead cast member Gab Pangilinan.

Coming on the heels of her sensational performance as one of the conjoined Hilton twins in Side Show last year, the rising stage actress delivers another memorable portrayal of another tragic figure.

In a recent Facebook post, no less than musical theater icon Lea Salonga considers watching Gab “go from fun to heartbreaking in a split second” as one of Huling El Bimbo’s best moments.

As Lea correctly pointed out, Gab’s character Joy is “the anchor” that brings the three male lead characters together and not surprisingly, the one she feels “most invested in.”

In a recent interview with this writer, Gab says Joy, who represents the ill-fated girl in the musical’s title song, “is not only a survivor, she’s a fighter, a dreamer and a person who is overflowing with life and love.

“And I personally resonate with that. Connecting to Joy for who she was wasn’t a problem for me, but because of the challenges she had to face later on, it’s the hardest role I’ve had to portray,” the young actress said.

It also didn’t hurt that Gab, who was not in the cast of the original production, got a lot of help from fellow theater actress Tanya Manalang, who first played Joy in the musical’s original run and who still alternates with her for the role.

“Working on bringing Joy to life was a grueling but exciting process. Tanya had to unlearn things from the past run and I had to start from scratch like do my research, watch documentaries and films, read articles. Throughout the entire rehearsal period, we were definitely a team. It helped that Tanya and I have known each other a long time (since I was 11!) so communicating with each other was easy,” Gab recalled.

“We had to work closely together in learning, understanding, creating, building the character of Joy, and we wouldn’t have been able to without the guidance and direction of Dexter Santos, Floy Quintos and Tita Menchu Lauchengo-Yulo (who plays the older Joy).”

As for performing the songs of the Eraserheads, a group she admits she has always admired, Gab says working on Huling El Bimbo made her an even bigger fan.

The cast and ensemble of the second run of Ang Huling El Bimbo
The cast and ensemble of the second run of Ang Huling El Bimbo

“Telling this story with the music of the Eraserheads and the lyrics that helped push the narrative even further with Myke Salomon’s amazing arrangements is really the heart of the show. It’s really so much more than a theater actor like me could’ve ever dreamed of doing. I don’t think I’ll ever truly grasp how big of a deal being a part of Ang Huling El Bimbo is,” she quipped.

Asked if she has any favorite parts in the musical, Gab said she loved every minute of Huling El Bimbo but considers it “a directorial masterpiece when the two timelines intertwined in Act 2 as one big production number that led to one magical moment.”

“As Joy, my favorite parts are all the scenes with Tiya Dely played by Sheila Francisco. Tita Sheila is the most amazing scene partner and I have learned so much from her these past months,” she added.

Gab comes from the prominent Pangilinan family that has more than its fair share of entertainers (aunt Angeli is known for her association with the vocal group, Music and Magic, and is married to Gary Valenciano; uncle Anthony is married to former actress Maricel Laxa and uncle Kiko, the senator, is of course married to Megastar Sharon Cuneta).

She is likewise thrilled to get favorable feedback from Lea Salonga and from everyone who was touched by the tragedy of Joy and what the future holds for her daughter Ligaya.

“I am just so thankful to be able to tell this story, which is so necessary and relevant today, to an audience of 1,500 every night. Whenever I get a message from even just one person thanking me for telling the story of Joy, that’s more than enough. This show isn’t for me anyway, but for all the Joys and Ligayas of the world. I find it to be a privilege for me to be able to tell their story. After all, it’s exactly why I do what I do,” she concluded.

Presented by Resorts World Manila and Full House Theater Company, Ang Huling El Bimbo is staged at the Newport Performing Arts Theater every Thursday to Sunday at 8 p.m., with matinees every Saturday and Sunday at 3 p.m. Tickets are available at the RWM Box Office and all TicketWorld outlets.