Arts & Culture

Throwback to 1975: Why You Should Watch Eto Na! Musikal nAPO!

The world created by the musical's director manages to sneak sinister undertones into its rosy, yet simultaneously accurate vision of the Philippines during the Martial Law period.
IMAGE LEO CASTILLO
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There’s no question that the current political climate has spurred the creation of new art, and it’s no more apparent than this month, when three Martial Law-related stories—two films (ML and Liway) and a musical—have made their debuts. Of these three, Eto Na! Musikal nAPO!,  featuring the songs of OPM pioneers APO Hiking Society, might seem to be the least consequential on the surface.


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Jukebox musicals, after all, have the reputation of being escapist fantasies geared toward audiences looking for a happy diversion rather than serious social commentary. While the story of Musikal nAPO!, in which seven college friends work to perform an original song on a noontime variety show, does appear to fall into the more lighthearted track, the world created by writer-director Robbie Guevara manages to sneak sinister undertones into its rosy, yet simultaneously accurate vision of the Philippines in 1975.

By the time the play reaches its bittersweet conclusion, the message becomes clear: In times of struggle, those who create art that speaks out against injustice must persevere.

From the moment the overture plays at the top of Act I, audiences are taken back to the '70s—simpler times, yes, but no less complicated. Audiences are introduced to the leads, all college students: Rick (Mark Bautista), who struggles to find balance between pursuing his passions and giving his girlfriend adequate attention; Ray (Jon Philippe Go), a pre-med student whose overbearing father disapproves of his extra-curricular activities; Butch (Jobim Javier), a playboy who decides to change his ways upon meeting the love of his life; Sonny (Alfritz Blanche), a gregarious young man who is at a loss on how to accept the fact that his girlfriend is migrating to the U.S.; and Jaime (Jef Flores), Donnie (Jon Abella), and Bobby (Vyen Villanueva), the three members of the gang who just want to make good music.

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The story opens with an opportunity to be on Campus Cafeteria (a play on the long-running real-life variety show Student Canteen). The leads need to write a song to win and to perhaps realize their lifelong dreams to achieve stardom. But as the realities of life—and life under Martial Law—begin to sink in, those dreams become more and more difficult to reach. By the time the play reaches its bittersweet conclusion, the message becomes clear: In times of struggle, those who create art that speaks out against injustice must persevere.


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Guevara manages to limit his song selection for the play to a lean 25 songs (in contrast, Across the Universe featured 34 songs from the Beatles library, while Ang Huling El Bimbo is said to include a whopping 40 songs by the Eraserheads). That discipline serviced the play tremendously as few, if any, song choices felt forced; rather, each track served a specific purpose in the story being told.

Eto Na! Musikal nAPO!’s script, however, is the biggest star. It seems acutely aware of the Philippines’ short-term memory, from its nostalgia-loaded humor to grim reminders of lessons past.

The cast ably brings the music to life. Jobim Javier, a radio DJ making his stage debut and son of APO member Danny Javier, delivers vocals that do the music justice, touching on all the emotional notes that bring meaning to his character. And while his dialogue delivery might have seemed uneven at times during the show’s second-ever performance, there’s reason to believe that more experience would land him on a list of young actors to watch. Alfritz Blanche shines as the scene-stealing, almost paternal Sonny; while Jef Flores works double-duty as comic relief and de facto driving force of the band, deftly juggling lightheartedness and earnest determination.

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Eto Na! Musikal nAPO!’s script, however, is the biggest star. It seems acutely aware of the Philippines’ short-term memory, from its nostalgia-loaded humor to grim reminders of lessons past. Using the timeless music of Danny Javier, Jim Paredes, and Boboy Garrovillo as a thread that connects the zeitgeist of the '70s to today’s audience was an inspired choice, allowing important things to be said with the wit, thoughtfulness, and charm that have become APO’s signature.

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On both a personal and social level, the musical asks us to remember where we’ve been—both the good times and the bad—and shows us how we can move forward on a positive note.

Eto Na! Musikal nAPO! is a reminder much-appreciated.

Eto Na! Musikal nAPO! runs from August 3 to August 26 at the Globe Theater, Maybank Performing Arts Theater in Bonifacio Global City. Tickets are currently available on Ticketworld.

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Marco Sumayao
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