Manila, PHILIPPINES – The jukebox musical: it’s a formula for theater success that’s been seen around the world. Take hit songs from a popular band or singer and make a musical from them. There’s a built-in audience for these musicals where the score is comprised of proven chart-toppers that have with withstood the test of time.
But this formula has had mixed results. There are critically acclaimed and well-loved international hits such as Mama Mia that was inspired by the songs of Swedish 1970s disco group Abba. There was Tommy, that was based on the eponymous double album by legendary rock trio The Who, and there was “American Idiot,” that was expanded from the epic rock opera album of the same name by 21st century punk rockers Green Day. And then there are unmitigated disasters such as “We Will Rock You” that was a sorry excuse of a story forcibly contrived from a string of classic stadium anthems by the legendary rock band Queen.
Locally, last year’s musical Sa Wakas was derived from the hits of the rock band Sugar Free. It’s only a matter of time before someone dares pushes through with theater works based on the classic anthems of the Eraserheads, The Juan dela Cruz Band, Sampaguita, Joey Ayala, and the like.
This year, Philippine Educational Theater Association both takes the lead and follows the trend by staging Rak of Aegis, a musical featuring the unforgettable heart-rending torch songs of local jukebox rock queens Aegis. The rock comedy-musical is set to premier January 31 and run until March 9 at The PETA Theater Center.
The Aegis band, named after the divine shield of protection in Grecian mythology, is responsible for classic hits such as “Luha,” “Basang-basa sa Ulan,” “Halik,” and “Sundot” that topped the local charts in the 1990s. Famous for belting and for vocal pyrotechnics, the Aegis sound possesses the same appeal as their international music contemporaries such as working class rock ballad band Journey, whose songs have become the score for theater musicals such as Rock of Ages and television shows such as Glee. Being from the same genre and milieu and enjoying relatively similar popularity, it’s easy to see how Aegis’ songs are perfect for a rock jukebox musical or opera for local audiences.
Bringing the songs to life are acclaimed thespians and real life spouses Isay Alvarez-Seña and Robert Seña. Aicelle Santos, Joan Bugcat and Kalila Aguilos. Julienne Mendoza, Ron Alfonso, Jet Barrun, Kakai Bautista, Poppert Bernadas, Gimbey Dela Cruz, Neomi Gonzales, Pepe Herrera, Carlon Matobato, John Moran, Jerald Napoles, Gie Onida, Phillip Palmos, Myke Salomon, Paeng Sudayan, and Gold Villar round out the ensemble.
At a recent press preview held at the PETA theater, the cast sang Aegis songs from the musical and nailed each and everyone of them, performing them convincingly not only as singers but as characters playing a part. This early on, the cast, as well as musical arranger and director Myke Salomon, deserves praise for such execution.
But ultimately, the songs of a musical should be in the service of a cohesive and compelling story. Even the most powerful songs cannot make up for a weak narrative. When asked about the story, PETA Artistic Director Maribel Legarda and Palanca Award-winning writer Liza Magtoto revealed that, true to PETA’s reputation for crafting socially relevant yet entertaining works, their story is timely and resonates with today’s audiences. It tells of a wannabe star discovered on You Tube (in the same way as Arnel Pineda of Journey and Charice Pempengco), and of a community devastated by floods (much like Tacloban after it was recently devastated by super typhoon Yolanda).
In the story, Villa Venizia, played by Aicelle Santos alternating with Joan Bugcat, is a charming small promo girl struggling to make ends meet ven she dreams of finding romance and becoming a star. Barangay captain Mary Jane, played by Isay Alvarez-Seña alternating with Kalila Aguilos, contemplates closing her shoe factory, consequently depriving Venizia’s father of a job.
Even as her situation becomes more desperate with the flood that devastates her community, Aileen’s suitor Tolits (Jerald Napoles alternating with Pepe Herrera) posts a video of her singing online in the hopes she will be discovered and rise above her poverty.
Without giving the plot away, Legarda assures that there will be unexpected twists and turns that will surprise audiences as well as provoke them to think of current issues. “She will have her hit, but that will also change the relationship of Aileen with her family and her suitors,” reveals Legarda.
Joining Legarda, Magtoto, and Salomon behind the scenes seeking to ensure the success of the musical are Jonjon Villareal for lighting design, Gio Gahol for choreography, Mio Infante for production design, Carlo Pagunaling for costume design, Maco Custodio for shoe design, and Joan Pamintuan accessory design. Legarda even reveals that the set design promises to be an innovative and exciting affair, with parts of it actually inundated by water. This will make for interesting choreography, movement, set interaction, and blocking. “I would have wanted the entire theater, even the audience seats, in the water,” jokes Legarda.
Buoyed by great songs, a stellar cast and a compelling plot, Rak of Aegis is set to be an unsinkable production; audiences are in for an uplifting theater experience. – Rappler.com
Writer, graphic designer, and business owner Rome Jorge is passionate about the arts. Formerly the Editor-in-Chief of asianTraveler Magazine, Lifestyle Editor of The Manila Times, and cover story writer for Mega and Lifestyle Asia Magazines, Rome Jorge has also covered terror attacks, military mutinies, mass demonstrations as well as Reproductive Health, gender equality, climate change, HIV/AIDS and other important issues. He is also the proprietor of Strawberry Jams Music Studio.
PETA Theater Center is at No.5 Eymard Drive, New Manila, Quezon City. Shows are on weekends, Fridays to Sundays, Friday and Saturday at 3 and 8pm and Sundays at 10am and 3pm except on February 23 with shows at 10am and 8pm, March 2 at 3pm and 8pm, and March 6 at 8:pm.