MANILA -- Set to delight Eraserheads fans in July, Resorts World Manila's "Ang Huling El Bimbo" weaves together a cohesive narrative from some 20 hits of the iconic band, about friends who drifted apart and reunite two decades later.
In a press conference Tuesday at the Newport Performing Arts Theater, where the production will be staged, cast members gave a preview of what to expect, with performances of the titular song, and another Eraserheads hit "With A Smile."
Those two tunes are among the quartet's most enduring hits, but the musical's director, Dexter Santos ("Maxie the Musical," "Orosman at Zafira"), pointed out that the music selection was "not about the hits, but what the story needs."
"What songs do we need in order to tell the story? [We prioritized] the narrative first, before the songs," he said.
Stage veteran Menchu Lauchengco-Yulo, artistic director of production outfit Full House Theater Company, shared that the band members "were very gracious" during negotiations to acquire the song rights for the musical.
"They allowed us to use what we thought [we needed], and then give them the list, and then they will check it. From what we hear, they loved it," she told reporters on the sidelines of the press conference.
Asked whether Eraserheads, composed of Ely Buendia, Marcus Adoro, Buddy Zabala, and Raimund Marasigan, had any input on the narrative, Yulo answered: "They gave the permission to use the songs, but had nothing to with the story. The story's completely something we came up with, given the material.
"Their songs tell a story, and some of the songs have angst, they're kind of heavy, so it was a matter of what songs now can we use to create the story. Kami [ang] nagtahi."
Prior to finalizing the music selection, Yulo said Resorts World had already given them the working title -- "Ang Huling El Bimbo" -- which then became a broad-strokes guide of the story they could tell using the rest of Eraserheads' catalogue.
Stitching them together was no easy feat, according to musical director Myke Salomon ("Rak of Aegis," "3 Stars and a Sun"). "Mahirap siya, kasi tinatagpi-tagpi namin to tell a story. So hindi siya puwedeng isang scene tapos isang buong kanta," he said.
The musical arrangement, as well as the interpretations of the cast, were also key to achieving a coherent narrative. "It's a musical naman, it's not a tribute album, so we can do anything," Salomon explained.
Director Santos added: "We don't want to be slaves to the lyrics, or slaves to the songs. These songs, you've heard them on the radio already. I think we have now the opportunity to translate them live, into a Pinoy musical. We might as well grab that opportunity to tell you stories, create new contexts, find new characters on how to sing them, change the dynamics of them."
Despite these variations, Yulo noted that the musical will be faithful to the original lyrics, even those with curse words.
"We are not changing any lyric. If we decide to use that song, and that is instrumental to the storytelling, gagamitin namin iyon. We're not going to shy away from using that," she said.
Leading the cast of "Ang Huling El Bimbo" are Topper Fabregas, OJ Mariano, Tanya Manalang, Reb Atadero, Boo Gabunada, Gian Magdangal, and Jon Santos.
During the press conference, they were careful not to divulge details of the story -- only that the six male performers are halved to portray past- and present-day versions of three friends. Manalang, they teased, will portray a "timeless" character named Joy, after Eraserheads' "Ligaya."
"Ang Huling El Bimbo," Resorts World's ninth theater production, will open on July 20.
Asked whether the band members are confirmed to watch one of the shows, Yulo said: "Hopefully they do come on opening night. We do plan to invite them, and of course acknowledge them, because if it's not for them, wala kami."