‘Rak pa more! Aegis pa more!’

DLS Pineda (The Philippine Star) - August 16, 2015 - 10:00am

I’ll go out on a limb and admit that I am no Aegis fan.

Let’s just say I’ve heard their songs one too many times in the jeepneys I ride, in the KTV’s I frequent, and in singing contests which are pretty much part of our national consciousness. More often than not, when an ambitious bloke — I like to call them “contenders” in some imaginary contest — keys in the numbers for an Aegis song on the karaoke machine, I would immediately roll my eyes, sigh, and tell myself that the party’s over and it’s time to go home. And once the contender sings, I would feel validated as they turn Aegis’ trademark birit notes into weak falsettos, soulful pitch changes into screams, and vibratos into opportune moments to pull the mic away from their mouths and laugh. Laugh at what exactly? I do not know.

Don’t get me wrong, I have no real issues with the seven-piece band hailing from Misamis Oriental. But when people start singing their songs in hopes to embarrass themselves, I sense mankind’s degrade invading my ears like yellowed, overused Q-tips.

Watching Rak of Aegis, however, was an entirely different “karaoke” experience. In no way would it remind anyone of that all-too-common KTV tragedy. It was glorious, worthy of the word “Aegis’” origins in Greek mythology. You just knew that, dazzled by the performance in front of them, the audience was singing in their heads, and no one was trying to grandstand some off-tune tomfoolery.





The show is on its fourth run now and yet, the crowd only seems to grow thicker. But as the month comes to a close, so does PETA’s box-office hit turn a page in its playbill. And while it is extending its run to Aug. 19 to 23, Rak of Aegis’ future is not yet set in stone.

“We are open to possibilities — for a tour, re-staging, or buying the rights for a movie, whatever. Just contact the PETA office,” Jerald Napoles, lead actor for the role of Tolits, says half-jokingly in our short interview.

Rak of Aegis’ storyline is uncomplicated, which is where part of its brilliance resides. (Take note that it is not an adaptation of the Broadway musical, Rock of Ages.) A flood has been plaguing the poverty-stricken Barangay Venezia for months, and all the barangay folk are inconvenienced. Aileen, our wide-eyed protagonist, is bent on posting a video on Youtube, which showcases her ability to sing, with the flood for her background. She is hoping it would be noticed by Ellen DeGeneres who would then take the entire barangay out of their rut, and most especially, help her mother out, who is sick with leptospirosis.

At the same time, Barangay Captain Mary Jane tries to do something about the flood while managing the barangay’s cottage industry, which is also suffering from the deluge. The storyline takes twists and turns which, much like Aegis’ songs, are unabashedly commonplace for Filipino individuals and communities — love triangles, forgone love, and job dissatisfaction — concluding with a happy note on social entrepreneurship. Throughout the 150-minute play, one feels as if caught in between the set of Home Along Da Riles and a high-cost production number on a noontime show. Needless to say, Rak of Aegis’ stage is one of the best ones I’ve seen so far.

But while it may seem like all fun and games, Renz Verano, one of the newer additions for this run, playing Aileen’s father Kiel, attests to the amount of work they place in making each showing as good as the next one. “May discipline sila,” Renz says, “Kasi ako, from the music industry, hindi namin ginagawa ‘yung ganyan katinding rehearsal. Once, twice, thrice na rehearsal tapos salang na agad. Napakaganda ng kanilang disiplina.” He reveals that before each show, there is a 30 to 45-minute warm-up and a 30-minute group vocalization.

Rak of Aegis had been a longtime coming. Expectations were high with PETA coming out with a salvo of original comedy-musicals year after year, beginning with Ang Pagdadalaga ni Maximo Oliveros, continuing with Care Divas the following year, and finally, Rak of Aegis. “Nung nakita ko pa lang ‘yung cast, January last year, alam ko nang hit ‘yan,” remarks Stella Mendoza who plays Bgy. Capt. Mary Jane in this run. “Given na ‘yung music ng Aegis at ‘yung cast na puro powerful singers and very good actors, it was a surefire hit for me. Kasi ang Aegis, maririnig mo ‘yung music nila mula sosyal hanggang kanto.”

With its widespread popularity now, Rak of Aegis bends many assumptions in theater — it has certainly changed the local theater landscape, for better or for worse. Aside from the original storyline which hits close to home and its use of Aegis songs, Rak of Aegis is laudable for reaching an audience wider than most theater shows produced locally. As Stella points out, “Syempre hindi naman natin maiiwasan na pag sinabi mong ‘theater,’ minsan, for others, it’s high art. When you mix it with mainstream, popular art, it makes it more accessible. Mas marami kang naa-attract. Mas marami nang hindi natatakot manood. Malaking bagay siya para sa amin to draw a larger market to watch theater.”

To which Renz Verano enthusiastically adds: “It’s a rare thing. Ako kasi, for a fact, masa ang music ko. ‘Pag sinabi mong ‘theater’, angat ka. Ang teatro kasi, iba, eh. Let’s face it, gano’n talaga. And I don’t blame them. Ang practice ng theater is a serious discipline. Pero ito, makikita mo, hindi lang ‘yung class A at B nanonood. Aabot siya sa C. Rak opens Filipinos up to watching theater. It’s a new education for Filipinos.”

“Of course,” Stella says, concluding our conversation. “All this is in the hopes that, eventually, even when the themes are no longer ‘commercial,’ people would still come to watch plays. Sana ‘yung mga nanood nito, buksan din ‘yung kanilang isipan sa marami pang ibang klaseng porma ng teatrong pwedeng mapanood.” Perhaps, it had been that from the start: For all my pains over the airplay and terrible renditions of Aegis’ songs, Rak of Aegis is a practice in openness.

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