Here’s our review: Ely Buendia – A Night at the Theater.
One of the most significant pieces of Philippine Theater in recent memory has got to be the original musical “Ang Huling El Bimbo”, featuring the songs of the Eraserheads. It has gone through multiple sold out runs and have gathered both popular and critical acclaim for its production value, score, and compelling story that securely fixed audiences again and again into the seats of Resorts World’s Newport Performing Arts Theater. A big part of this is the emotional capital, an entire generation of Filipinos invested into the songs of the Eraserheads that provided the soundtrack to many a tortured adolescent during the iconic band’s heyday in the 90’s. Adolescents then, who now have the money to purchase tickets to sit in a theater and communally hum the songs they grew up, fell in love, and cried with.
Now imagine a situation wherein you have such an emotionally charged show, and you have the Eraserhead’s equally larger-than-life frontman center stage. The sheer energy such an evening would cause could potentially power the entire Metro.
This is exactly what occurred during the repeat of “Ely Buendia: A Night at the Theater”. A hybrid, rock concert-slash-musical montage of selected numbers from “Ang Huling El Bimbo” serves as a quirky reimagining of the show. The scenes written by Dingdong Novenario, with arrangements by Myke Salomon, and directed by Jamie Wilson, is woven tightly into the narrative of the musical. Propelled forward by the main cast of the musical who returns in full force including Gian Magdangal, Chino Veguillas, Jon Santos, Carla Guevara-Laforteza, Reb Atadero, Victor Robinson, Lance Reblando, Tanya Manalang, and Sheila Francisco: breathing life to the time-traveling element of the show. The concert portion of the evening is accompanied by the awesome EB band composed of Audrey Dionisio on acoustic guitar, Pat Sarabia on drums, Carissa Ramos on bass and Nitoy Adriano on lead guitar.
At the start of the show, a dapper, silver-haired Buendia stands in true rockstar form, performing with the kind of focus and dexterity that we have all come to expect from the commensurate performer. The production jumps from a typical concert to a pared down performance of some select numbers from the show with the cast. For fans of the original musical, the seamless incorporation of Buendia in some of the scenes from the musical is but an example of the inventive way the show is effectively retconned.
The show brings you 30 years back in time to meet up with the younger characters from the Ang Huling El Bimbo musical. Much like a companion piece to the original show. If you’ve seen the musical before, during any of its runs, this serves to enhance your experience of the material as the original Eraserhead’s vocals resonate with nostalgia as he sings along the immortal lyrics. And it slowly becomes apparent that the presence of the fictionalized Buendia, dropped in the middle of the story, disrupts the timeline of the show (so to speak). It reshapes and redirects the story of Emman, AJ, Hector, and Joy to a heartwarming conclusion. A subtle and delightful “what if”, that closes the show. It is a beautiful and satisfying “Alternate ending” to an otherwise tragic show that compelled me to get on my feet by the end of the show in appreciation of their heartfelt and earnest performance.
And this is what makes the music of Ely Beundia and the Eraserheads so special: it works on so many levels, regardless of time or place. It is this quality of absolute timelessness that allowed the band to transcend time and space in the hearts of Filipinos everywhere. This show, and how it turned the musical that inspired the scenes on its head is the living testament of the uncanny power of their music.