At the risk of showing my age, I must say I grew up loving the music of APO Hiking Society. I’m an ‘80s baby, after all. I remember passing the time when I was a kid—those blissful years when the Internet and social media do not exist—listening to their songs on the radio and singing along, even while ironing clothes.
I also watched their weekly musical-variety show in the ‘90s, Sa Linggo nAPO Sila, which initially only aired on Sundays before becoming the daily noontime show ‘Sang Linggo nAPO Sila. I even appeared on TV for the first time when I represented my school in a spelling bee on ‘Sang Linggo nAPO Sila when I was in elementary. (I made it all the way to the Grand Finals!) In college, I was thrilled that one of APO’s members, Jim Paredes, was a faculty member at the Ateneo de Manila University when I was a senior. I quickly signed up for his class. Fangirl that I am, I made sure I aced it! I’m glad to see him occasionally in Globe events.
It was on one such event, the press preview of Eto Na! Musikal nAPO!, a production of Globe Live and 9 Works Theatrical, that I saw Jim Paredes again, this time with another member of APO, Boboy Garrovillo (who hosted the spelling bee I participated in!). It was nostalgic to see them, having grown up singing and loving their songs. The APO Hiking Society is an OPM legend, and it was only a matter of time that a musical featuring their songs was created. This original musical marks the second anniversary of Globe Live’s co-production with 9 Works.
The APO Story & Legacy
Back in an era when American songs dominated the airwaves, APO Hiking Society was among the first to promote Original Pilipino Music, or “OPM,” which APO’s third member Danny Javier was said to have coined, and encourage their fellow songwriters and musicians to write songs in Filipino. Throughout the ’80s, APO Hiking Society and their songwriting prowess made them one of the pioneers of the movement. While music in Filipino or Taglish seems common today, during APO Hiking Society’s rise to fame, it was daring enough to inspire musicians who then rose to claim their own fame as well.
Boboy, Danny, and Jim have since become icons, mainstays on the radio with dozens of hit singles, played in over 50 cities all over the world, from the United States to Japan. They were the first to perform at the legendary Carnegie Hall in New York, along with Marco Sison.
APO Hiking Society’s music experienced a new wave of popularity when the tribute albums Kami nAPO Muna and Kami nAPO Muna Ulit were released in the mid-2000s. OPM’s most famous acts at the time such as Kamikazee, Itchyworms, Sponge Cola, and Up Dharma Down introduced a new generation to APO’s music with their own renditions. There’s no escaping their cultural influence.
Paredes succinctly explains their secret: “We wrote the soundtrack of people’s love lives. We made and sang songs that became their theme songs for their first love and the other stages that they went through. We captured their closeness and bonding with their barkada. We had songs that celebrated their childhood and school lives.”
“The goal we had was to write songs that would encapsulate the Filipino’s experience of love, friendship, humor, etc.,” says Paredes. “That is why people can relate to them. Lyrics were simple but authentic. We avoided clichés. We used everyday language.”
I’m sure I’m not the only one who can relate to APO Hiking Society’s songs, who endure until today in the hearts of couples growing old together to the tune of “Panalangin” or reminiscing how their romance started with “When I Met You,” both of which always make me feel kilig; those whose hearts recently got broken, belting their hearts out to the tune of “Nakapagtataka” (I remember singing this while crying during a videoke session with friends after a breakup); and everyone who grew up on the wisdom of “Batang-Bata Ka Pa.” I’m so glad Eto Na! Musikal nAPO! is introducing APO’s music to new generations, all while bringing back golden memories for long-time fans like myself and our parents.
Eto Na! Musikal nAPO! features an original story penned by Director Robbie Guevara. He shares, “In 2013, Boboy Garrovillo lightly suggested we make a musical using their songs. I remembered his story on how APO started and evolved when we did a play together in 2003. And I knew that’s what I wanted the musical to be about.”
Guevara wrote the story loosely based on the start of APO Hiking Society as collegiates at the Ateneo De Manila University. Set during the era of Martial Law, Eto Na! Musikal nAPO! tells the story of a motley crew of college students hard at work to take on a singing and songwriting competition in the 1970s. Their lives are seemingly carefree at first, allowing them to focus on their music—which is undoubtedly good, but yet to be discovered. However, their idyllic youth doesn’t last for long. Even if their passion for music burns bright, life gets in the way. They go through joy, romantic bliss, and heartbreak as they come of age, told through the songs of APO Hiking Society. Despite the hardships, they emerge from their struggles to prove the power of friendship and solidarity—which is what APO Hiking Society also shared with Filipinos over the course of their long career. The group’s existence outlasted Martial Law, and their music inspired people across various generations.
“We captured in songs a lot of what it is like to grow up in the Philippines,” says Paredes, who himself was active in protesting against Martial Law. APO Hiking Society recognized the power of music to uplift people, which their songs continue to do today. Eto Na! Musikal nAPO! pays respect to that by reliving the songs onstage with a moving story about love, friendship, overcoming obstacles, and the sheer joy of living in the moment.
“Learning about this musical is really exciting for us because there is nothing more pleasant than to have your body of work through four decades be staged by a successfully-known production company, and be given new life in a medium that we as a group have not quite immersed ourselves in,” says Garrovillo.
“I am also happy that a very young cast is performing them. The script, staging, and the music seem fresh and new. I hope the Filipino theater audience loves it,” adds Paredes.
The Production and My Review
Eto Na! Musikal nAPO! brings you back to the ‘70s: The set, the props, and the sound effects adequately called to mind the idiosyncrasies of the time. The lighting effectively helped set the mood for each scene. And of course the cast convincingly strutted and danced around in period hair (oh, the hair!) and bell-bottomed jeans, platform shoes, and colorful printed tunics paired with Chuck Taylors, accessorized with headbands, and statement accessories with peace signs, once used as covert messages of rebellion against the dictatorship.
The musical is definitely a walk down memory lane, yet still relevant to the current times. The songs are carefully selected, from the hits to the hidden gems, featuring some of APO’s greatest hits like “Pumapatak Na Naman Ang Ulan,” “Panalangin,” and “Paano,” among others. It promises to be a melodic treat for fans and theater fanatics alike, with lush new choral arrangements that give a fresh twist to the songs we love. I love how each act began with an instrumental medley of APO songs played by the orchestra.
Even if you know the songs by heart, they won’t sound exactly the same. “You’ll notice right away that something new is added to the original,” says Musical Director Daniel Bartolome. “I personally wouldn’t want to touch the original arrangements. The songs are already perfect as it is. But considering that it would be used in a musical, changes have to be made, because it’s not going to be staged as a concert, but with a story. The music is part of the storytelling. I carefully chose which to omit, which to keep, and which to change to best serve the staging or the scene,” says Bartolome. The musical offers reinvented renditions of the songs, with rich harmonies and large numbers by the talented cast.
The singing is raw and I wouldn’t say flawless, but all performances are impactful and evoke powerful emotion. The production numbers are all great fun and highly entertaining. All their punchlines worked! The actors successfully portrayed charming, relatable characters—considering most of the cast were not even born at the height of Martial Law!
APO Hiking Society shared messages of hope and optimism in the midst of dark times. Jim, Boboy, and Danny openly spoke up against the government when performing to audiences all over the country, fully aware of the danger they were getting themselves into. Their songs served as reminders of hope and steadfastness. I found it truly fitting that their songs are once again put in the limelight, what with everything that’s going on in the country right now. We may not be in Martial Law, but practically the same corruption, violence, and blurring of truth and lies continue to happen in our current government. We needed this musical.
Eto Na! Musikal nAPO! was made with a fervent love and respect for the music of APO Hiking Society. It is a heartfelt homage to the group and their illustrious history. It’ll be a treat for the entire family and theater lovers alike.
Cast and Crew
9Works Theatrical and Globe Live gathered an incredibly talented cast to bring the show to life.
Mark Bautista and Rita Daniela
After being part of Here Lies Love at West End in 2014-2015 and fresh from a Seattle Repertory’s staging of the same, Pinoy showbiz mainstay Mark Bautista stars as the group’s chief lyricist Rick, who is also the boyfriend of Anna, played by GMA artist Rita Daniela.
The romantic pairs were a hit! (L- R Jobim Javier, Sab Jose, Mark Bautista, Rita Daniela, Alfritz Blanche, and Marika Sasaki)
Jobim Javier, with his natural charm, follows in the talented footsteps of his father Danny Javier, playing the campus palikero, Butch. Sab Jose, who recently graduated with honors at the Guilford School of Acting in London earlier this year, plays his love interest, Michelle. Acting as Sonny is award-winning singer Alfritz Blanche, while Sonny’s girlfriend, Jane, is played by a Filipino-Japanese actress also from GMA, Marika Sasaki. All three romantic pairs provide a lot of the swoon-worthy and laughter-filled moments in the musical.
The ragtag septet: (L-R) Mark Bautista, Jobim Javier, Alfritz Blanche, Vyen Villanueva, Jef Flores, Jep Go, and Jon Abella
Jon Philippe “Jep” Go, also known as The Singing Chemist after being chosen by Lea Salonga in The Voice of the Philippines Season 2, plays Ray. Stepping up as Jaime, whose American twang is a recurring punchline in the story, is two-time PHILSTAGE Gawad Buhay awardee for Best Actor Jef Flores. Completing their septet are Jon Abella as Donnie and Vyen Villanueva as Bobby. Theater veteran, Miss Saigon alumna, and TV actor Raul Montesa plays Ray’s father; while theater and TV actress Neomi Gonzales plays Ray’s mother.
(L-R) Jon Abella, Vyen Villanueva, Jef Flores, Jep Go, and Raul Montesa
Behind the scenes, Eto Na! Musikal nAPO! also has Jonjon Martin as dramaturg, PJ Rebullida as choreographer, Shakira Villa Symes as lighting designer, Joey Mendoza as set designer, Eric Pineda as costume designer, Dong Calingacion as technical director, Rards Corpus as sound designer, Myrene Santos as hair and makeup designer, Ronan Ferrer as vocal supervisor, and Cathy Azanza-Dy as stage coach. Heading the production team are executive producers Santi Santamaria (9 Works Theatrical) and Joe Caliro (Globe Live), with Globe Live Events Director Denise Seva.
Eto Na! Musikal nAPO! opened last August 3 at Maybank Performing Arts Theater, Bonifacio Global City, and still has shows on August 10-12, 17-19, and 24-26, 2018, at 8PM from Friday to Sunday, and 3PM on Saturday and Sunday.
For tickets, contact Ticketworld at (02) 8919999. A limited number of performances are available for fundraising and block buying. Contact (02) 5867105, (0917) 5545560, and firstname.lastname@example.org.
Show photos by LEO CASTILLO
Promo photos courtesy of Globe Live and 9 Works Theatrical