Mar 20, 2014

[Theater] Rak of Aegis (PETA)

I have to admit that I'm really bad with the local entertainment scene. My biggest issue is language - I'm really not good at Filipino / Tagalog, and so I have a harder time understanding local movies and music. So yeah, I'm a pretty bad Filipino in his regard.

So when I heard about the new musical Rak of Aegis (a play on the title Rock of Ages), I had pretty mixed feelings about whether or not I wanted to drag Tobie to this particular show. We both didn't know too many Aegis songs, and at its core this was meant to be a jukebox musical. And there's a part of me that feels that you can't really enjoy a jukebox musical when you don't know the original artist. This is precisely why I totally fanboyed over Mamma Mia! given my love of ABBA and I had a great time with Jersey Boys since who doesn't know their music?

So I went into Rak of Aegis semi-blind, so to speak, which only a few of the more popular Aegis songs under my belt. But surprisingly, that was enough.



Rak of Aegis is an original Filipino musical that uses the music of the pop-rock band Aegis as the basis for its music. The play was written by Liza Magtoto and was directed by Maribel Legarda. The story behind the music was derived in part from psycho-social debriefings that PETA held for survivors of Typhoon Ondoy. It was staged at the PETA Theater in Quezon City from January 31 - March 9, 2014.

Our protagonist is Aileen (Aicelle Santos), a sales clerk at department store who is determined to hit it big and become famous. To this end, she's trying to film a YouTube video of her singing in the hopes of being discovered by Ellen de Generes. And once she's famous, she thinks that she'll finally have the money to support her family and uplift them from poverty. Helping her is her boyfriend Kenny (Myke Salomon), who seems to have his own artistic dreams for the future.

But the town as a whole has bigger problems - ever since the last typhoon they have remained flooded. Despite repeated requests by the local government - as headed by Barangay Captain Mary Jane (Kalila Aguilos) - nothing has been done to clear out the flood waters and the residents do the best the can to adapt to life with their streets turned into rank rivers. And in time, the whole town seems to get involved in Aileen's dreams for success - but perhaps not in the way you expect.

First, let's talk about the music. This is truly an original musical comedy as oppose to a jukebox musical since you don't actually hear any Aegis songs in their entirety. Instead songs are sampled and mixed together in a number of different ways - something that was either driven by the cost of securing the rights to the music or a desire to focus solely on the more popular songs and just rework them to death. This certainly helped keep the audience engaged, especially those who were like me and didn't know too many Aegis songs beyond the likes of Ulan and Halik,

The set was brilliant and pretty ambitious for the production. The central feature of the multi-level set was a pool of water that ran like a river down the middle of the set. This represented the flooded main road and had a boat that could travel up and down the street (using a hidden track submerged in the water). It was a great device for stressing the challenge of dealing with the flood waters since actors had to actually wade into the pool repeatedly. The water level could also rise and fall in line with the needs of the story, which was all rather clever.

The folks brought into this play were some pretty powerful singers - something essential when dealing with the power ballads of Aegis. Aicelle Santos of course needed to have the range and power to manage the songs and she hit the notes pretty spot on almost all the time. What impressed me more was the musical abilities of Kil (Juliene Mendoza), Aileen's father. I mean seriously, the man can really sing and for a guy to even attempt Aegis songs - what more perform them decently - that's quite a feat.

But in terms of acting, I felt a lot of the principle cast weren't quite as good as they were as singers. The main exception to this the character Tolits (Jerald Napoles), whose charm and wit really captured the audience's support. His love story is an endearing one and filled with puns and cheesy lines. But it totally worked and it showed that a lot of love went into the writing behind that character.

On a similar note you have Jewel (Phi Palmos), the primary comic relief character as once again represented by the spunky young gay guy. It's sort of fascinating how this is a becoming a bit of a trope among local comedy plays (or does this only apply to PETA comedies?) SOGIE concerns aside, they know how to write these comedic gay characters well and they still serve a valid function in the overall narrative.

The story is a little weird since it's not immediately clear what the conflict is. Should we all get mad at the nearby subdivision whose construction led to the flooding in their town? How about Mary Jane who strikes a deal with one of the developers? Should we be mad at the municipal government that does nothing for the town's flooding issues? And thus the first act is like one long slice-of-life sort of narrative. And thus the scenes at times seem almost random and can drag on a bit.

The story becomes a bit more focused at the end and it explores an interesting aspect to the complications of this whole flood-submerged community. But again the overall conflict isn't all that strong and you're not quite sure who to root for. So instead you disengage a bit from the story and just enjoy the music - or wait for Tolits to say something funny.

Rak of Aegis was certainly an interesting production born out of a joke made in passing. But hey, who are we to question how creative inspiration works? You can never really tell what might lead to the next big idea for a stage musical. Thus the show as a whole gets a good 4 big dance routines done precariously close to the indoor river set out of a possible 5.
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