New, returning cast members make ‘AHEB’ more exciting

Totel V. de Jesus

Posted at Apr 20 2023 06:37 PM

 Revitalized ‘Ang Huling El Bimbo’ to run for three months 

Young main characters are, from left, new cast member Paw Castillo (Young Emman), returning cast member Gab Pangilinan (Young Joy), newbie Anthony Rosaldo (Young Hector) and returning actor Topper Fabregas (Young Anthony). Totel V. de Jesus
Young main characters are, from left, new cast member Paw Castillo (Young Emman), returning cast member Gab Pangilinan (Young Joy), newbie Anthony Rosaldo (Young Hector) and returning actor Topper Fabregas (Young Anthony). Totel V. de Jesus

MANILA -- In 2018, Full House Theater Company surprised the local theater community when it staged the original musical “Ang Huling El Bimbo” (AHEB), a seemingly impossible production using the songs of the Eraserheads.

At the time, the four members of the most influential rock band from the 1990s, Ely Buendia, Raimund Marasigan, Buddy Zabala and Marcus Adoro were busy with their own groups and a reunion concert was in limbo. 

Yet, Full House made it possible and for fans of musical theater and the band, it was a dream come true when “AHEB” was finally staged at the Newport Performing Arts Theater (NPAT). It closed with 115 shows in 2019 with no promise of another staging until COVID-19 pandemic happened. 

Now, “AHEB” is back with new and returning cast members, starting April 21 until July 23 at the NPAT of Newport World Resorts

‘Every day is a gift’

The returning cast members are Gab Pangilinan as Young Joy, Gian Magdangal as older Hector, and Topper Fabregas as Young Anthony. With the ensemble, there are Sheila Francisco returning as Tia Dely and Jamie Wilson as Arturo Banlaoi, the military officer who morphed into a corrupt politician. 

During the recent exclusive preview for the media at the NPAT backstage, Pangilinan told ABS-CBN News that having survived the pandemic and getting back into acting for the stage, she is very thankful for being chosen again to play the enigmatic character where the narrative of the musical revolves. 

“Every day is a gift. To be able to just be here and just share. Everything that happened. Every moment counts. Even if we are sitting here and have been rehearsing for a full month and only three weeks before opening, to be back here, to be learning again from Sir Dexter (Martinez Santos, director and choreographer) and Tita Mench (Menchu Lauchengco-Yulo, artistic director of FHCT). It’s a privilege. It’s a gift,” she said.

Joy is the lead character originated by Tanya Manalang in the 2018 run. Pangilinan said she was still with PETA’s “Rak of Aegis” at the time but she was part of the demo track. She came in the following year as alternate and won rave reviews. 

Magdangal was part of the 2018 and 2019 runs. He told ABS-CBN News: “Siyempre, being here again am just so overwhelmed and grateful. I’m really grateful, salamat at nandito pa. I just have to say I am very excited to be part of the show. At the same time, it’s always been different. So every rehearsal, every show is gonna be different, everybody is gonna be on the edge. To experience the story with renewed chemistry. Just working with these people. I am just very grateful to Full House. At the same time, it’s very humbling.”

“Hindi lang ako because it’s an ensemble work with Hector and Emman. It’s so different. I hope I can still do justice. I want to underline the ensemble. I started in theater as the ensemble. Andun 'yung hirap pawis at dugo. You really have to watch out. Nagbubunga rin pala. At mas marami pa akong mai-inspire na bata,” Magdangal added. 

Fabregas has been with “AHEB” since the 2018 run, alternating with Phi Palmos. 

“I’ve been lucky to be part of something that means a lot to a lot of people. This is like a family. And to be part of a musical that uses the songs of the Eraserheads, which comprised the soundtrack of a generation, a landmark already. Especially for theater actors,” Fabregas told ABS-CBN News

“Every moment, I am thankful for sure, kasi baka last na ko na ‘to for this run,” he added in jest. 

Fabregas emphasized it’s an ensemble work and part of his excitement to come back to “AHEB” is because of the “easy chemistry with senior members and the ensemble.”

Lessons in life from ensemble work

In the previous runs, Francisco didn’t have an understudy so she acted as Tia Dely in all 115 performances of “AHEB.”

“Yes, I played Tia Dely in the entire run so she is very close to my heart. I am very thankful. Coming from the pandemic, the transition from acting in (online or streaming productions), then gamit na gamit talaga ngayon, ramdam ko talaga hirap nating mga actor. To have a deeper and more dynamic approach. It’s just never the same,” Francisco said. 

During the pandemic, Francisco was able to shoot and played the titular character in Martika Ramirez Escobar’s groundbreaking, now much-awarded “Leonor Will Never Die.”


And that’s one thing she is also thankful to “AHEB” because in one of the shows, Escobar was in the audience. The young filmmaker was so impressed with Francisco’s performance, she immediately contacted the actress and the rest is history.

“Kinuha ako dahil napanood ako as Tia Dely kaya I can say whatever I achieved in the film industry, dito ako nag-umpisa,” Francisco said. 

 Sterling new cast members

The new cast members are Gawad Buhay-winning theater actor Paw Castillo as Young Emman, theater actor and “The Voice” finalist Nino Alejandro playing older Anthony, indie folk artist Bullet Dumas as older Emman, up-and-coming singer-actor Anthony Rosaldo as Young Hector and professional voice teacher Katrine Sunga as older Joy, the character originally played by Menchu Lauchengco-Yulo alternating with Carla Guevara-Laforteza. 

 Gian Magdangal returns to 2023's 'Ang Huling El Bimbo' the musical as Hector. In this photo, he is joined in by new cast members, from left, Katrine Sunga as older Joy, Bullet Dumas as older Emman and Nino Alejandro as older Anthony. Totel V. de Jesus
Gian Magdangal returns to 2023's "Ang Huling El Bimbo" the musical as Hector. In this photo, he is joined in by new cast members, from left, Katrine Sunga as older Joy, Bullet Dumas as older Emman and Nino Alejandro as older Anthony. Totel V. de Jesus

Eagle-eyed theater fans would remember Castillo as part of the 2019 ensemble. More so, he won a Gawad Buhay “Best Featured Male” Award for a supporting role in Tanghalang Pilipino’s “Lam-Ang.” Earlier, he played the young Junyee in the veteran artist’s biopic “Balag at Angud,” also staged by TP. Castillo is also a most sought-after portrait photographer and graphic artist in the theater community. 

Castillo is the new young Emman Azarcon, the “probinsyano” character with a Batangueño accent longing for his girlfriend who migrated to Canada. It was originally played by Boo Gabunada, Vic Robinson and Nicco Manalo. 

 “I’m very excited stepping into the shoes of Emman. It’s a very big responsibility. As part of the ensemble in 2019, I believe there is always the right time, the perfect time. I am very thankful and I think everyone is here for a very, very good reason. Hindi ko sinasabi na madali ang ensemble o mahirap ang ensemble, pareho lang pero ibang responsibility po talaga yung lead,” Castillo told ABS-CBN News. 

Rosaldo is playing Young Hector, the rich college kid originally played by Reb Atadero and Bibo Reyes. Rosaldo admits he is the new kid on the theater block and is very thankful for all the help. 

“I am very thankful sa lahat, especially the cast members. Everyday, I look forward to the rehearsals. Everyone is so helpful. Hindi ako nahihiya magtanong. It’s a challenge po talaga maging theater actor lalo primera klase ang production. Para sa akin, huwag tumigil na matuto at malapit na ma-realize ang pinaghirapan namin together. Pinagpapasalamat ko po yan,” Rosaldo said. 

Young Hector understudy is MC dela Cruz. He was part of the original “AHEB” ensemble from the 2018 run. Recently, he played one of the lead characters, Christian, in “Mula Sa Buwan” musical. Prior to that, he was part of the “MSB” ensemble as Maximo. 

Now, like a pattern, from “AHEB” ensemble he is about to play one of the leads again.
“Ensemble nangarap na maging main character. ‘Pag na-realize mo ang mga pinagdaanan mo bilang ensemble, nagbubunga pala talaga. That’s why I am here and I learned a lot. And I hope mas marami pa akong mai-inspire na bata na gustong mag-theater. Dini-discourage nila mag ensemble. Hindi ganun. We are all welcome sa theater. Any size, shape, gender pwedeng pwede sa theater,” Dela Cruz said. 

Katrine Sunga will play the older Joy. She is a classically trained singer and currently a voice teacher at The Music School of Ryan Cayabyab. 

“I’m very nervous but also very excited. It’s a hit musical. So just being here, being part of this great ensemble, being directed by Sir Dexter musical, such a blessing for me. It’s also a big challenge for me to give justice to the character,” she told ABS-CBN News. 

She admitted it’s her debut in musical theater. She said, “I’m more exposed and active in the opera world. I auditioned because musical theater has always been my first love, and was actually my major in college before I shifted to classical.”

Among the opera productions she did was “Carmen” in 2013, directed by Laurice Guillen, wherein she played one of the gypsy girls. In the Cultural Center of the Philippines “Rigoletto” in 2014, she was La Contessa. In “Noli Me Tangere The Opera,” she played Victoria. She was part of ensemble in CCP’s staging of classic operas like Puccini’s “Tosca,” Donizetti’s “Lucia di Lamermoor” and “Viva Verdi.”

Nino Alejandro is a familiar face among theater lovers. He regularly acted in musicals like “Waitress,” “Jersey Boys,” among others directed by the much-missed Bobby Garcia for Atlantis Productions. In fact, Alejandro was part of Atlantis’ “The Band’s Visit,” which was halted on its opening weekend in March 2020, because of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“When I saw ‘AHEB’ in 2018, something really struck me inside in my heart and mind. It was just was amazing. Seeing shows abroad and haven’t seen a show like this. This is dynamic. Pangarap ko na one day sana. I can do this show,” Alejandro told ABS-CBN News. 

“It’s always been a dream come true. To work with Sir Dexter and the amazing team of creatives. This has been the most emotionally challenging character to date. 

“We’ve been gone for so long. We didn’t know when [the pandemic] was gonna end. We thought it’s gonna last forever. Awa ng Diyos. We didn’t know when the next performance is gonna be. Am so happy to be part of this. We should never really take anything for granted. Just to be here with this amazing cast, am so thankful,” Alejandro added.

Bullet Dumas, who will play older Emman, is not entirely new to musical theater. He played Bonifacio, the lead character in Khavn dela Cruz and Zosimo Quibilan’s “2Bayani: Isang Rock Operang Alay Kay Andres Bonifacio,” which was staged and produced by Tanghalang Ateneo in April, 2022. At the time, live shows were still not allowed due to health and safety protocols so it was streamed via for the entire month.

Since it was streamed, Dumas was able to go to Berlin, Germany also in April to early May and played an interesting character named Tikbalangay in Khavn’s “SMAK!” It was described hybrid theater with the long title “SMAK! SuperMacho AntiKristo: A Headless 100-Act Opera To Mend All Broken Bicycles Of The Universe According To Jarry & Rizal”. Since it was staged at the iconic 850-seat theater called Volksbuehne am Rosa-Luxemburg-Platz, Dumas considered it his first theatrical role in a musical with a live audience. 

“Imagine, first salang (acting on stage) ko with a live audience, international agad,” he told ABS-CBN News, followed by laughter, when we cornered him after the press sneak preview. 

So that would make “AHEB” as his Philippine debut in musical theater with a live audience. 

“Super hirap ng ginagawa namin. Sana makita niyo kung gaano kahirap gawin. Pero kumbaga, ginusto ko ‘to (laughter). Kaya pinapatunayan namin sa sarili, sa aming mga heads, kina Miss Menchu, Sir Dex, Sir Myke, Sir Michael (Williams). At sa mga taong nasa likod,” Dumas said, referring to the artistic team. 

“AHEB” is written by Palanca-winning playwright Dingdong Novenario (“Daddy’s Girl,” “Kafatiran”) with additional scenes and dialogues by the veteran Floy Quintos and with musical direction and musical arrangements by Myke Salomon (“Rak of Aegis”). 

Some ‘tweakings’

Choreography and direction are done by Santos. We asked him if there’s an update in the script since the setting of “AHEB” was during the previous administration. 

“Majority of the script is there. But we are pushing the narrative further. It’s an original work so we can do some minor ‘tweakings.’ The characters in 2018 need to be updated. Obviously, ang laki ng mga changes when it comes to what we’ve gone through. Mga pinagdaanan ng mga tao. It’s an amazing cast we have now and we’ve chosen actors depending on sensitivity and personality nila,” Santos told ABS-CBN News. 

Cast members with the artistic team behind 'Ang Huling El Bimbo' gamely pose together. Totel V. de Jesus
Cast members with the artistic team behind 'Ang Huling El Bimbo' gamely pose together. Totel V. de Jesus

Set design is by Gino Gonzales and lighting design is done by Monino Duque. Associate choreographers are Stephen Viñas and Friz Esase, who are also both part of the ensemble. 

Projection design is done by GA Fallarme, sound design by Rards Corpus and costume design by Marlon Rivera.

Female members of the ensemble are Anna Francesca Quimno, Natasha Cabrera, Miah Canton, Teetin Villanueva, Julia Santiago, Kalaylah Villanueva, Cara Barredo, Liway Perez, Abi Sulit, and Mica Fajardo.

The males are Red Nuestro, Jasper Jimenez, Viñas, Jules Dela Paz, Mark Anthony Grantos, Gie Onida, Jordan Andrews, Joshua Bajado, Francis Gatmaytan, Rofe Villarino, Eduardson Evangelio, Emmerson Evangelio, Rapah Manalo, Jep Go and Esase.

“AHEB” holds the record of being the second most staged musical at the Newport Performing Arts Theater, right behind "The Sound of Music," which had a total of 117 performances, from 2011 to 2012.

Now, that record will be broken as the revitalized “AHEB” returns for three months starting April 21 to July 23 with an exciting cast members and theater lovers as well as Eraserheads fans are back with “revenge watching” mode. 


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