THE HOPELESS romantic Tolits grips his cellphone tightly as he takes a video of Aileen singing the Filipino rock band Aegis hit, “Basang-Basa sa Ulan.” During the wet season, the rains pours down on Villa Venecia where the flood has not subsided for weeks — a recurring situation since 2014. Aileen hopes that the video, once uploaded online, would lead to her being discovered by American television host Ellen Degeneres and thus, become a tool for awareness about her community’s difficult situation. Unfortunately, Tolits accidentally drops the cellphone and it sinks into the flood. Despite Tolits’ explanation of how he can retrieve the cellphone and the precious footage, he looses pogi points as the woman he fancies is disheartened and leaves him in the rain.
GETTING THE BALL ROLLING
In 2012, PETA’s artistic director Maribel Legarda and musical director Myke Salomon were having a casual conversation about ongoing productions over a meal.
Talking to BusinessWorld on July 21 at PETA Theater Center, Ms. Legarda recalled that Mr. Salomon suggested producing a musical and calling it Rak of Aegis, since at that time Atlantis Theatrical Entertainment Group was staging Rock of Ages, a jukebox musical featuring classic 1980s rock songs.
Without hesitation, Ms. Legerda said, “Noong narinig ko ’yun (When I hear that idea), I said, ‘Tama, we’re [gonna] do it!’”
“It took us a few months to get an appointment with Aegis band manager Josie Galindo… When we went to see them, we talked to the Galindos [and] wala pang (in less than) 10 minutes, they said ‘Sure!’,” Ms. Legarda recalled, adding that the all-female band (best known for its dramatic belting style of songs) and the theater company shared the same advocacy of promoting original Pinoy content.
After getting the blessing from the band and its manager, the musical — written by Liza Magtoto — took a year and a half to write and produce.
Ms. Legarda noted that they aimed for the story to “not be a fishbowl.” “It should be love not only between two people but a larger kind of love,” she said.
During the auditions for Rak of Aegis, the actors were required to sing Aegis songs.
Actor Pepe Herrera noted that the male actors were tasked to sing “I Love You Nalang sa Tago” (Tolit’s solo), a song he admittedly was not familiar with until the auditions.
Mr. Herrera — who has played the role of Tolits multiple times since the original production seven seasons back — recalled that he and Jerald Napoles were originally called back for the role of Tatay Kiel, Aileen’s father.
“Teenager dapat ang balak [for the role of] Tolits and Aileen (Tolits and Aileen were supposed to be played by teenagers),” he said.
But when the actors Isay and Robert Seña were considered for the roles of Kapitana Mary Jane, the factory owner whose shoe factory is failing thanks to the flood, and Tatay Kiel, Aileen’s father who is on the brink of losing his job, Mr. Herrera and Mr. Napoles were both cast as Tolits.
In January 2014, Rak of Aegis premiered with Aicelle Santos and Joan Bugcat alternating as Aileen; lsay Alvarez-Seña as Kapitana Mary Jane; Robert Seña as Tatay Kiel; Kakai Bautista and Neomi Gonzales alternating as Mercy, Aileen’s mother; Pepe Herrera and Jerald Napoles alternating as Tolits.
Mr. Herrera admits that he struggled with nerves, a newbie in the business during the musical’s first run.
“Grabe ’yung kaba ko nung first show. I still remember para akong binuhusan ng masarap na tubig nung kumagat yung first punchline tapos tumawa sila (I was so nervous on the first show. I still remember when I felt like I was splashed with refreshing water after the first punchline landed well and the audience laughed),” he said.
THE CHARACTER OF BAHA
The play has another character — the flood. And playing the role are the 33 drums of water used in each performance.
Set designer Mio Infante noted that dealing with water onstage is difficult and challenging. “[The set is] wet and something can go wrong. Actors have to be extra careful with water because accidents can happen,” he said, describing the Rak of Aegis set as dangerous.
“Although it brings a different thing for the spectator, because normally we don’t really see water [in a play]. For Rak, we wanted to be more experiential, that’s why we added water and it is actually the core of the whole thing,” Mr. Infante said.
Mr. Infante based the set design on images he found of flooded urban areas.
“In the Philippines, a lot of the urban areas are, aside from it being congested, it’s below sea level. So when the rains come, [floods are] inevitable,” he said, referring to how households in these areas regularly move furniture and appliances to the second floor until the waters subside. “Baha (floods) for them, is a way of life.”
According to Mr. Infante, the musical’s set depicts a flooded urban community relocated to the second floor. To ensure that the audience see the artificial rain well, small roofs were hung around the set for the rainwater to flow down from. The water is then collected in a large fiberglass pool that serves as the flood.
“The water is controlled within an area, but because it hits the actor, it will splash on (the audience),” Mr. Infante said, referring to it as an interactive experience. “It’s the novelty of it.”
Ms. Legarda explained that the water is collected from a pool beside theater; it is chlorinated prior to the show, and changed once a week.
THE MUSICAL’S RESILIENCE
The musical has struck a chord with audiences and as a result it is currently the longest-running original Pinoy musical and began its seventh run in July.
Ms. Legarda credits the “very Pinoy story” and people’s “love for Aegis music” for the success of the show.
“It has become a ritual to perform [Rak of Aegis] from July to September — during the rainy season,” Ms. Legarda said, adding that there audience members who have seen it multiple times and balikbayans inquire about the reruns.
“If you’ve seen it [before], it’s all right, I’m not asking you to come back. If they come back, I think, they always find something new or something to laugh about it, which makes up for the fact that they know what’s going to happen already,” she added.
For the seventh season, the musical welcomed new cast members: actor-comedian Randy Santiago plays Fernan, the shrewd businessman-villain; multi-award winning singer-songwriter Noel Cabangon as Kapitan Kiel; and award winning world music performer and actress Bayang Barrios alternates in the role of Mary Jane with movie actress and singer Jenine Desiderio.
They are joined by Wish 107.5 Wishcovery 2018 1st Runner Up Kimberly Baluzo (Aileen); Leah Patricio from The Voice of the Philippines Season 2 (Mercy); GMA artist and singer Derrick Monasterio (Tolits); Viva Artist and two-time PhilPop grand prize winner Yumi Lacsamana (ensemble); and up and coming theater artists Ashe Uy, Marynor Madamesila, Lemuel Silvestre, and Gerard Dy as members of the ensemble.
Throughout its multiple shows, Mr. Herrera said that the audience’s laughter is the most rewarding response.
“Making other people laugh and laughing myself, it energises me,” Mr. Herrera said about the opportunity to showcase his “jologs” (tacky) side.
“I am embracing it completely and everything that goes with it… It may seem mundane, but now I see the great importance of that to the people that we entertain,” he added.
The story’s take on resilience continues to resonate among Filipinos.
“This is one play where at the end of it, you feel good about it. [It’s] not because hindi namin dini-discuss ang problema ng Pilipinas through a community pero nagbigay ka ng hope and the possibility of coming together (It’s not because we do not discuss the problems of the Philippines through a community but we give hope and the possibility of coming together),” Ms. Legarda said, regarding what makes it stand out from other jukebox musicals.
At the 2015 Gawad Buhay Awards, the musical bagged 11 trophies including those for Outstanding Original Musical; Outstanding Ensemble Performance in a Musical; and Outstanding Female Lead Performance in a Musical by Kim Molina.
Since its premiere in 2014, Rak has been seen by about 150,000 people and counting. By the end of its seventh run, there will have been 447 shows.
PETA is now finalizing plans to stage it regionally.
According to Mr. Infante, the annual restaging has allowed the production team to make improvements on the set and strategize on the possibility of touring. “We’ve sort of changed the methodology of setting it up. Originally, it took a while to set it up. It makes it more efficient after you do it several times,” he said. “Since last year, the pool can be set up in less than eight hours.”
With optimism in her voice, Ms. Legarda said: “I think it’s time for it to go somewhere [else].”
Rak of Aegis runs until Sept. 29 at the PETA Theater Center in Quezon City. For tickets and schedules, contact TicketWorld (www.ticketworld.com.ph, 891-9999). — Michelle Anne P. Soliman