In the later part of 2012, PETA’s artistic director Maribel Legarda had a chat with Liza Magtoto about making a musical using the songs of Aegis (the group that gave Filipinos the can’t-be-escaped “Basang-basa sa Ulan”, among others). We know the approach re making of such a musical, of course; overseas, “Mamma Mia!” has been making waves (and lots of money) by using the songs of AbBBA; ditto “Across the Universe” that uses the songs of The Beatles.
Though that chat was – in a way – partly a joke, Magtoto said that the musical that “had a Pinoy soul in it” eventually came to life because: 1. if you’re a Filipino, there’s really no way to escape Aegis (Hello “Halik!”); and 2. if you listen closely to the lyrics of Aegis songs, you’d eventually understand why they “click” (e.g. “Basang-basa sa Ulan” has a line: “Ngunit hero, bumabangon pa rin”).
And so – eventually – “Rak of Aegis” came to life (the title a play at “Rock of Ages”).
That was around 2013, when the “rock comedy musical” was (first) rolled out. And now, for the Nth time, PETA is rolling it out again…
We take another look at “Rak of Aegis” to see what makes this iteration worth it…
1. Providing a “current” look at current issues…
“Rak of Aegis”, for me, remains relevant because it tells a story that’s valid on our times.
To start, there’s climate change, and how this particularly affects poorer places (say, a country like the Philippines).
“Rak of Aegis” tells the story of Aileen (and the people around her) who lives in Barangay Venizia, a place submerged in flood waters for two months already. The flood has already affected the livelihood of the locals (e.g. shoemaking); and is affecting other aspects in the lives of the locals (e.g. her mother has leptospirosis, a disease spread by contact with water contaminated by the urine of infected animals).
Though she works (as a saleslady, a contractual worker), Aileen falsely and blindly believes that their way out is for her to be famous (I’d say: “Welcome to this famewhoring generation”). So she kept trying to make a YouTube video to make some “noise”, hoping that the “likes” she gets will save her, her family, and the entire barangay.
Aileen eventually gets her wish, forcing the cause of the flooding (i.e. absence of a sewerage system in a nearby subdivision development) to surface; the enterprising spirit of people (e.g. holding a concert in a flooded area) to become apparent; and opportunism to be seen (e.g. surfacing of other wannabe celebs to follow Aileen’s footsteps)…
All these issues are “now” issues; and kudos for PETA for being able to roll them into a “rock comedy musical”…
2. A glimpse at intersectionality.
Yes, there are poor people. And poverty is NOT (only) because people are lazy. Their contexts need to be considered – e.g. access to education, access to opportunities, et cetera.
Yes, the Internet can help popularize issues; but keyboard activism – on its own – is NOT the solution. Being proactive in developing efforts offline/in the real/physical world is just as important.
Yes, opportunists abound (e.g. real estate developers that don’t give shit for the environment so long as they get ROI); but “kaput sa patalim” (that “opportunism” because people are left with no choice) is also existent (e.g. we put up with shitty proposals from those in power because… it’s not like we really have any choice).
All these – and more – are tackled (lightly or in-depth) by “Rak of Aegis”…
3. Worthy production…
PETA – being PETA – is expected to produce good shows; and this is no exemption.
Take the set design (by Mio Infante) that may look simplistic; but gives life to Barangay Venizia as a water-swallowed place (i.e. with an actual “flooded” canal in the middle).
The lighting (by Jonjon Villarreal) more than helps set the atmosphere of the scenes; it also – for me – highlighted specific moments/people worth highlighting. Think of the character Tolits (Pepe Herrera in the production watched for this review), who had more than one, two or even three breakout scenes; all of them emphasized by how well he was literally given the spotlight.
PETA’s facilities aren’t as big as, say, the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP). But that it was able to make the most of what it has is praiseworthy…
4. The cast, the cast…
When I first saw “Rak of Aegis”, somewhat-celeb Aicelle Santos was the lead (as Aileen), supported by the likes of Jon Santos (Fernan, the real estate developer); Kakai Bautista (Mercy, the mother); Isay Alvarez-Sena/Bayang Barrios/Jenine Desiderio (as Mary Jane, the barangay captain, and former GF of the father); and Robert Sean/Noel Cabangon (as Kiel, the father of Aileen). That this is a star-studded affair is… a given; so for stargazers, this is an opportunity to see these celebrated thespians performing.
Santos is still with the production, though Shaira Opsimar was the Aileen seen for the review. Adept in the role, Opsimar is unlike Santos; with Opsimar, she is easily “swallowed” by her bigger-named co-performers (e.g. Sweet Plantado-Tiongson, the Mary Jane in the production reviewed). This is not necessarily bad as it creates that sense of naïveté. But those wanting Aegis-like “birit” will remember more the co-stars Tolits (Pepe Herrera), Kiel (Renz Verano), and yes, Mary Jane (Sweet Plantado-Tiongson).
Others seen in the production reviewed were the somewhat tamed down Vince Lim (as Kenny, the former BF of Aileen); and eye candies/ensemble and scene-stealers Gio Gahol and Carlos Matobato.
As a unified whole, though, the cast of “Rak of Aegis” deserve to be seen.
From the comedic timing of Jewel (Ron Alfonso), to the agaw-eksena/secene-stealing singing of the likes of Mary Jane and Kiel, you have here a definite winner…
As FYI: The “older” cast members (e.g. Aicelle Santos, Kakai Bautista, Isay Alvarez-Sena, Bayang Barrios and Jenine Desiderio) are still performing; so if you’re extra picky, you may want to know beforehand who’d be going onstage…
5. Aegis songs – of course!
And then there are the songs of Aegis – e.g. “Halik”, “Luha”, “Basang-basa sa Ulan”, “Christmas Bonus”, “Munting Pangarap”, et cetera.
Ogie Alcasid – yes, the hubby of THE regime Velasquez – the president of the Organisasyon ng mga Pilipinong Mang-aawit (OPM), once said that “a show like ‘Rak of Aegis’ is an embodiment of what we have to do as Filipinos – suportahan, tangkilikin at ipagbunyi natin ang ating sariling musika.”
And he’s right.
Some may say that Aegis songs can be… baduy (slang for “in poor taste” or “unfashionable”). But that they tug at the hearts of those who listen to them is a fact. Though they may tackle of heartbreak, for instance, they also talk about getting back up; of resilience.
And this speaks so much of what makes us Filipinos.
In “Luha”, Aegis famously sang:
“Gulong ng buhay | Patuloy-tuloy sa pag-ikot | Noon ako ay nasa ilalim | Bakit ngayon nasa ilalim pa rin | Sana bukas nasa ibabaw naman.”
This is everyone’s hope, I suppose.
And with “Rak of Aegis”, well… you can get some sense of trying to be on top…
“Rak of Aegis” runs July 5 to September 29 at PETA Theater Center, No.5 Eymard Drive, New Manila, Quezon City, 1112 Metro Manila.