Ang Huling El Bimbo Is a Spectacle in Need of Its Own Redemption
Ang Huling El Bimbo is an exceptional production with flawed storytelling, but ultimately remains a show well-worth your time and money. If you’re able to catch it as it nears the end of its run, consider yourself fortunate—tickets, it’s been said, are selling out fast.
El Bimbo is the story of three estranged college buddies—Hector, Emman, and Anthony—who are brought back together by the death of their friend, Joy. With roughly 40 songs from iconic ’90s OPM band Eraserheads driving the narrative, the play is a poignant missive on saying what needs to be said, before it’s too late.
The biggest star of the show is the music, and musical director Myke Salomon does absolutely brilliant work in reimagining some of the country’s most memorable songs. “Pare Ko,” for instance, strays from the usual
“Alapaap” and “Overdrive” blend together to create a scene that manages to capture all the hope and potential of a senior year road trip, the number being one of the most unforgettable scenes from the play. And “Ligaya” becomes a heart-breaking dirge mourning innocence lost.
The cast more than ably brings Salomon’s reworkings to life. Reb Atadero, Boo Gabunada, Topper Fabregas, and Bibo Reyes (as an alternate to Atadero) all shine as the younger versions of the play’s leads, their chemistry carrying the audience through every emotion their characters go through. They feel exactly like the type of friends one might wish they had in college. Tanya Manalang, who plays the younger Joy, also delivers a praiseworthy performance, on large part due to the power behind her vocals.
Gian Magdangal, OJ Mariano, and Jon Santos play the older versions of the leads, and though entertaining, may have exercised a little too much restraint in delivering their dialogue; the singing, however, is impeccable.
Of the supporting cast, Sheila Francisco and Maronne Cruz stand out as strong female characters that the musical is short on, making their strong performances that much more welcome given the relatively limited time they’re onstage.
The cast and music work together to create an absolute spectacle onstage, overshadowing any of the minor flaws previously mentioned. The set pieces are some of the most ambitious, most entertaining seen in original local productions, and are a large reason why the musical has been getting stellar reactions from audiences. On those merits alone, Ang Huling El Bimbo should not be missed.
But for all the platitudes heaped onto the play, there hasn’t been nearly enough talk—at least in non-critical circles—of how it fits in with post-#MeToo society. The play’s success needs to open up the discussion on “fridging” and why writers need to avoid it;
Fridging is the act of writing “Women in Refrigerators”, a term coined by comic book writer Gail Simone and used to describe female characters whose narrative purpose is to suffer as a plot device. It takes its name from a Green Lantern story in which the hero finds his girlfriend murdered and her corpse stuffed inside a refrigerator, a horrifying act that forces him to take his duties with a greater sense of responsibility.
Although extreme violence can believably influence a third party’s personal growth, as is often the case in real life, modern discussions on writing have highlighted the fact that women are by far the majority recipients of said violence, to the point that rape is said to be shorthand for backstory and drama. In fact, the ratio of rape being used as a plot device in Hollywood is so high that some television showrunners, including American Gods’ Bryan Fuller, have banned the use of sexual violence on their stories as a reaction to the “epidemic.”
In Ang Huling El Bimbo, no less than the female lead is fridged. Joy is raped, and her death 20 years later only serves to help Hector, Emman, and Anthony find their own personal redemptions—each of which, it must be mentioned, are tied to women who were written to suffer in the shadow of the trio’s shortcomings as people.
Joy’s life is shattered by men; she is sexually assaulted, abandoned by her male friends, left by her child’s father, and forced to work for a corrupt official—and yet all of this happens in service to the other leads’ stories. Her pain becomes a background detail for other men.
One might argue that there is a sense of verisimilitude to all this, that Filipino society is glutted with women who suffer in silence, but Ang Huling El Bimbo’s script and some odd direction choices belittle the gravity of sexual assault. Because the tale is told mostly from Hector’s,
And therein lies the rub—while there is truth to what Ang Huling El Bimbo says, it’s an incomplete
Why this is a problem, and why modern writers have opted to address storytelling issues like it, is because art that depicts sexual violence and gender inequality without nuanced perspectives
Without that challenge, Joy’s rape becomes voyeurism for the sake of entertainment.
Like its male characters, however, Ang Huling El Bimbo has a shot at redemption. The wonderful thing about
Perhaps this time, it’ll say what needs to be said.