REVIEW: 'Rak of Aegis'--fitful narrative, heart-rending music

'Rak of Aegis'--fitful narrative, heart-rending music
By Walter Ang
Feb. 15, 2014
Philippine Daily Inquirer

Myke Salomon is able to break apart Celso Abenoja's compositions for seminal rock band Aegis into fun and sometimes funny new arrangements in Philippine Educational Theater Association's "Rak of Aegis."

His rearrangements, like a slower mix of "Halik," lets the lyrics and melodies' emotions flow in ways that rend the heart from new trajectories, but definitely no less potent than Aegis' familiar all-out wailing, face-melting renditions. His electronic dance music piece that samples the same song is light and catchy.

It's more pun in the Philippines with the production's title, a play on the title of the Broadway musical "Rock of Ages," and its setting in perpetually flooded Barangay Venizia, a takeoff from canal-lined Venice.

With book by Liza Magtoto (adding a few lyric changes here and there) and directed by Peta artistic director Maribel Legarda, this jukebox musical comes after Tanghalang Pilipino's "EJ: Ang Pinagdaanang Buhay nina Evelio Javier at Edgar Jopson" (The Dawn) in 2008 and Culture Shock Productions' "Sa Wakas" (Sugarfree) last year. (Magtoto has an unproduced, unstaged draft of a jukebox musical using the discography of the Eraserheads.)

Timely commentary
The musical shows audiences its characters' struggles with the elusive nature of happiness, offering a timely commentary on what it has meant to be a Filipino in the first few years of the 2010s: hoping against hope amidst the ubiquity of technology (that not all Filipinos have access to, much less utilize) and of calamities (the musical was created post-"Ondoy," pre-"Yolanda").

No matter how advanced the technologies available to them (i.e., the global reach of the Internet) and no matter how severe the disasters that have inundated them (meteorological, ecological, economic, and, of course, most importantly, romantic), the characters' ongoing concerns are still to seek out what will make them happy.

At least, what they think will make them happy--love or money (by way of a job or fame) or both.

Aileen wants to be famous so she can help her family. Kenny and Tolits both want Aileen. Aileen's father Kiel needs to keep his job. Kiel's employer Mary Jane needs to keep her business afloat.

Technical feat
Mio Infante's set design is a technical feat, with a strip of thigh-high floodwater right down the middle (which gets rained on, too). Dressed with floating detritus, the water looks absolutely disgusting and looks/feels like it smells bad, too.

Slightly confusing, though, is the lack of submerged infrastructure, making the flooded eskinita look more like an estero that had always been there (a banca too stately to be a makeshift raft reinforces this notion). Suspended miniature houses as a backdrop that were perhaps meant to create a false perspective of urban sprawl instead create a weird sense of upward scale: Is Barangay Venizia on a hill?

The ensemble sings well (musical direction is also by Salomon) and their blended voices sound solid. They're dressed in threads that feel very now and very real, with a touch of gaudy Pinoy sensibility, designed by John Pagunaling.

Joan Bugcat delivers on the vocal acrobatics required of Aileen. Both Bugcat and Salomon (Kenny) execute their roles with an appealing vibe that speaks of their characters' youthful naivete and whiny brashness.

Juliene Mendoza (Kiel) and Kalila Aguilos (Mary Jane) draw from what seems to be bottomless reservoirs of emotion. Mendoza imbues his songs with tender sincerity and anguished longing, while Aguilos informs hers with an edgy weariness.

Pepe Herrera (Tolits) is the surprise shining star of this production. He steals the show completely with his singing prowess and comic timing.

The production feels bloated because of a tendency to be redundant. It begins with an overture medley and ends Act 1 with a medley reprise. Several songs are repeated, the novelty of their new contexts wearing off with each refrain. The dialogue is didactic and constantly repeats facts, justifications, reasons and explanations.

One song that was repeated was worth it, though -- the entertaining baritone-soprano rendition of "Sinta" by Ron Alfonso (as enterprising sari-sari store owner Jewel), sans doble-kara makeup and costume.

Like the debris bobbing up and down the floodwaters of the set, the flow of the musical suffers from fits and starts, partly due to the way songs are cut and the way scenes are ended and sometimes due to slow scene changes and belabored audience participation segments.

Aileen losing her job comes a little late and out of nowhere in Act 1. Perhaps it might have added to the despair and created a sense of urgency if it happened earlier? It feels forced, as if the collaborators needed an excuse to be able to include "Christmas Bonus" into the musical.

Bubbly duet
Strange also is the fact that while Kenny and his mother get to say sorry to each other for past grievances, the same opportunity is not given to Aileen and her father.

Lighting design and blocking sometimes did not swim together, resulting in audiences straining to search for who was talking.

There is no way to miss, however, a cheer-inducing, bubbly duet between Aileen and Tolits backed by a chorus of labanderas with magic wands.

Note: Most roles are played by sets of alternating actors. The alternates are Aicelle Santos for Aileen, Isay Alvarez-Seña for Mary Jane, Robert Seña for Kiel, Poppert Bernadas for Kenny, Jerald Napoles for Tolits and Phi Palmos for Jewel.

"Rak of Aegis" runs until March 9 at Peta-Phinma Theater, Peta Theater Center, 5 Eymard Drive, New Manila, Quezon City (behind Quezon City Sports Club). Contact 7256244, 0917-5765400; or e-mail Tickets also available through Ticketworld at 8919999 or

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Two Filipinos, one Fil-Am cast in Disney Cruise Line shows

Two Filipinos, one Fil-Am cast in Disney Cruise Line shows
By Walter Ang
Feb. 8, 2014
Philippine Daily Inquirer

Standing: Echivarre. Seated: Magalit and Silva.
Two Filipinos have been cast in the onboard shows of Fantasy, one of several Disney Cruise Line ships. They begin performances by the second quarter of this year.

But because they are contractually required to protect the "reality" of the characters they play in the Disney ethos--audiences must perceive the characters as real, and not some actors in costume playing a role--Charley Magalit and Rhina Echivarre demur from revealing which roles they've been cast in.

Nonetheless, Magalit, whose last production in Manila was Triumphant Peoples Evangelistic Theatre Society's (Trumpets) "The Bluebird of Happiness," reveals that, "aside from looking for talent, the people running the show are very particular about actors looking the part." (Hint: Think of non-Caucasian protagonists in the animation studio's filmography.)

"It sounds cliché, but it really is a dream come true to be able to play [these Disney characters]," she says. "I grew up listening to and singing Disney songs. I was a Disney kid even before I decided to pursue music or theater. It will be great to be surrounded by kids, becoming a part of their childhood and making their dreams come true as well."

Getting there
Both are currently rehearsing the various roles they will be doing in the five different shows that are part of the 130,000-ton, 1,115-feet liner's Caribbean itinerary (which departs from Port Canaveral, Florida).

Born and raised in Quezon City, Magalit was a Voice major at the University of the Philippines and debuted onstage in Dulaang Unibersidad ng Pilipinas' "Isang Panaginip na Fili" in 2008. She was also part of the Philippine Opera Company.

From her audition in June 2013, it took Magalit seven months (which included follow-up videotaped songs and even scene work) to land the job. Though the auditions were meant to cast for Hong Kong Disneyland theme park, she was asked if she'd accept an offer from the cruise line instead.

"They called in September and then the real work took place. I was running from office to office in between my existing work of recordings, shows, rehearsals and lessons to obtain the necessary documents I needed."

After "Bluebird" closed in October, she took her seaman's training.

She joins fellow Pinoy cast member Echivarre, who was cast in 2012 and had been performing on the ship since last year.

Hailing from Cebu, Echivarre had been joining local musical productions since she was 10 years old, and took up ballet with Ballet Philippines-Cultural Center of the Philippines Dance School.

She'd been working professionally as a nurse and had been teaching ballet part-time when her hospital coworker (a sister-in-law of Ana Fegi, who is currently working as a performer in HK Disneyland) encouraged Echivarre to audition.

During her auditions in Manila, she was asked to sing "A Whole New World" from "Aladdin."
"I was beyond thrilled to sing it for them, because I love the movie so much and Jasmine is my all-time favorite princess," she says.

Like Magalit, she was also offered a job with the cruise line instead of the theme park.

"I was very hesitant because I didn't want to be far away from home, but my family convinced me that it's really a wonderful opportunity to work for Disney and how stepping out of your comfort zone gives you the chance to grow wiser and stronger as a person," she says.

Since she was the first Filipino woman to join the cruise line, the paperwork was tougher for her.
"The Philippine Overseas Employment Administration had to formulate the requirements since they never had to send anyone for this kind of job position before," she says.

Older sisters
Both have become instant older sisters to another Pinoy who's been cast: Baden Silva, a dancer who was born and raised in Los Angeles.

"Dad is from Tanjay and mom is from Dumaguete. I was just in the Philippines in August last year," he says. "It was my third time going and I love it every time!"

"I've always just been that kid who is into performing arts. I'm just drawn to it," says Silva. "I didn't really start dancing until my first year in high school because I'd been into choirs. After high school was when I really decided that I want to make dance my career."

Echivarre says, "It is such a wonderful thing to see my fellow Pinoys be part of one of the most prestigious companies in the world that brings magic and happiness to people young and old. I am very excited for more opportunities Disney Cruise Line has for more Filipinos."

Magalit stresses that to get these opportunities, discipline is a must.

"Back in school, funnily enough, I found out I would get better grades when I was working on a production, and my focus was much better in everything that I needed to accomplish. The discipline instilled in me by my mentors in the Philippines continues to bring me where my dreams are."


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