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REVIEW: ‘Bar Boys’ is an earnest, restless, brilliantly written law school odyssey

REVIEW: ‘Bar Boys’ is an earnest, restless, brilliantly written law school odyssey

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Barefoot Theatre Collaborative’s musical adaptation of the 2017 film rearranges its key elements and electrifies it to new life with a fresh, urgent pulse.

If Kip Oebanda’s 2017 film
Bar Boys was an earnest, if roughly constructed, slice of life about the trials and tribulations of Filipino law students, Barefoot Theatre Collaborative’s new musical adaptation of the movie rearranges its key elements—and electrifies it to new life with a fresh, urgent pulse. 

The show is still very much an ensemble piece about four best friends of varying personal and socioeconomic backgrounds, all taking on law school together. But where the film made a bid for universality through smaller moments of human conflict, Bar Boys: A New Musical somehow captures the eternal struggle to preserve one’s honor and dignity in a world of seemingly overwhelming corruption. Even with minor missteps and some generally frustrating sound design, the strength of its foundations is still unimpeachable: captivating, highly emotional performances; and excellent writing that keeps each moment restless in search of truth.

Heightened Reality

What helps Bar Boys keep a sense of momentum is its intelligent use of Ohm David’s set. The show takes place on a relatively thin, horizontal stage, with bleachers for the audience rising from either side—turning the viewer, at turns, into a student at a lecture hall, a nosy neighbor, or an omniscient judge observing these characters’ actions. It may feel as if there isn’t enough room on stage for the ensemble, but Jomelle Era’s expressive movement design, Pat Valera and Mikko Angeles’ direction, and Meliton Roxas Jr.’s lighting divide the stage into separate lanes and segments. And the storytelling remains tense, fluid, and a delight to watch through every scene transition.

Valera and Angeles initially present a more heightened version of law school, filtered through the video game that the four friends enjoy playing at the top of the show, and through the general absurdity of having to read and memorize the law non-stop for years on end. The energy that the co-directors infuse into Bar Boys starts out feeling almost like a game show. But it progressively gets less romanticized as the production goes on, and as the deceit of the “real world” gradually begins to confront the characters’ ideals formed in the classroom.

Odd Sound, Strong Music

Omar Uddin as Josh Zuniga, Benedix Ramos as Erik Vicencio, Alex Diaz as Chris Carlson, Jerom Canlas as Torran Garcia; Photo Credit: Kyle Venturillo

However, as thoughtful as Bar Boys’ visual elements are, the musical’s sound design inconsistently flutters between clarity, muffled noise, and the occasional shrill pierce. The attentive viewer should eventually adjust, but it remains an issue when overlapping voices lose their respective personalities. Still, this doesn’t dull the impact of Valera and Myke Salomon’s original songs, which can be simultaneously wide-eyed with sincerity and unabashedly dramatic. It’s just that there are perhaps too many musical numbers that add extra punctuation to a point already made—but even these extraneous bits provide great opportunities for these performers to sing.

Despite the whirlwind of activity on Bar Boys’ stage, there are more than enough actors who stand out: Gimbey dela Cruz’s unassuming, innocent Aling Tinay; Alex Diaz’s idealistic but naïve, upper-class Chris; and Kakki Teodoro and Carlon Matobato’s revolving door of professors. However, this is ultimately Benedix Ramos’s show; he lets his Erik simply be present, occupying every scene with a barely-concealed helplessness and frustration towards himself and the people he can’t seem to get through to. And when Ramos gets to share the stage with Sheila Francisco’s formidable Justice Hernandez, or Juliene Mendoza’s impossibly endearing Paping, the musical finds an unexpected, powerful emotional core. 

Searching for an Explanation

Bar Boys

Sheila Francisco as Justice Hernandez; Photo Credit: Kyle Venturillo

It’s no longer surprising when a Filipino musical boasts great music or great acting, which is why it’s worth emphasizing that Bar Boys’ strongest suit is actually Valera’s stunningly written book, awash in fantastic, nimble dialogue that’s just as thrilling to listen to as any of the musical numbers. There’s obviously quite a bit of legal jargon on the page, especially as the characters are grilled from classroom to court, but this kind of language always serves a purpose. Every new discussion chips away at each student’s sense of right and wrong—or rather, their ability to reason for the good, when so much of their world is already so deeply submerged in corruption.

Even when the script spins too many plates (Torran’s involvement with a fraternity) or portrays some things as too black-or-white (Atty. Carlson as, essentially, a supervillain), Valera still successfully expands on the original film’s ideas to not only represent the law school experience, but to capture a post-election worldview among specific sectors of the youth. No longer is this Bar Boys simply about achieving one’s academic dreams; it is born from a desperation to understand why evil people seem to succeed and thrive in our society, and why seemingly good people are unable to put a stop to them. That a piece of musical theater confronts so much about our institutions, our definitions of justice and morality, and our role and our complicity in all this, is absolutely worth paying attention to.


P2200 – P3000
Show Dates: May 3–19 2024
Venue: Power Mac Center Spotlight Blackbox Theater, Circuit Makati, Makati City
Running Time: approximately 3 hours (including a 15-minute intermission)
Credits: Pat Valera (Book, Lyrics, Co-Director), Myke Salomon (Music, Lyrics, Musical Direction), Mikko Angeles (Co-Director), Jomelle Era (Movement Design), D Cortezano (Technical Direction), Ohm David (Set Design), Meliton Roxas Jr. (Lighting Design), Tata Tuviera (Costume Design), Bene Manaois (Projection Design), Julia Pacificador (Property Design), Arnold Jallores (Sound Engineering), Francisco Yabut (Associate Technical Direction), Jethro Nibaten (Associate Lighting Design), Geraldine Corpus (Associate Lighting Design)
Cast: Benedix Ramos, Alex Diaz, Jerom Canlas, Omar Uddin, Sheila Francisco, Juliene Mendoza, Topper Fabregas, Nor Domingo, Gimbey dela Cruz, Kakki Teodoro, Carlon Matobato, Diego Aranda, Edrei Tan, Ade Valenzona, Jannah Baniasia, Meg Ruiz, Anne Cortez, Uzziel Delamide, Lorenz Martinez
Company: Barefoot Theatre Collaborative

About the Author /


Emil is a writer based in Quezon City. His work has been published in Rogue, the Philippine Daily Inquirer, CoverStory.ph, and A Good Movie to Watch. Follow him on Twitter @quezoncitrus and Instagram @limehof.