Rak of Aegis is an original Filipino musical featuring timeless songs of the rock band, Aegis. Now on its fifth run, Murphy Report had a hearty chat with some of the musical’s cast members to understand what makes it click with the Filipino audience and determine the secret to their overwhelming success. Read up on what veteran theater actors Robert Seña, playing the role of Kiel, and Isay Alvarez-Seña, playing Mary Jane (MJ) have to say about their experiences being part of the cast from the beginning of the musical. Also playing the role of MJ is musical actress Tricia Jimenez, and she shared with us her emotions on joining the musical for the first time. We had a good laugh talking to Alisah Bonaobra, who plays Aileen, as she tells us all about what she’s looking forward to as she debuts in her first musical play.

Rak of Aegis is on its fifth run.  What do you think pulls the audience in?

Isay Alvarez-Seña: In the beginning, we never thought it would be this successful. I guess it’s because of the music and the characters. I think the audience can identify with each and every one of us on stage.

Robert Seña:  Marami ng following because the story is very simple but the music is very good. We have new cast members as well. Interesting panoorin yung roles na gagawin ng ibang artista.

How is the 5th run different from the other runs? Has it changed?

Robert: There are some new songs, sort of a new approach. There are new punchlines to make it fresh for all of us as well.

Isay: I can’t say there’s a difference except for some added music and some added things on stage. But like in any musical, dapat naman wala talaga, not unless it needs to be changed, dapat wala.

issue_02_RakofAegis_4

Rak of Aegis, a musical that showcases Filipino pride. Photo Credit: Cris Legapsi and M Espeña

How is Rak of Aegis different from your previous experiences in theater/performing arts?

Robert: First time ko gumawa ng musical na adaptation or music from a band. Usually original songs talagaSa acting pareho lang naman. The difference is this is very simple but with a heart.

Tricia Jimenez: Ang saya kasi niya eh, kwelang-kwela. Tapos kuhang-kuha niya yung gusto ng audience, yung humor ng Filipino, kuhang-kuha niya. Lalo na how we talk now at kung paano tayo mag-isip. Kung paano kumilos ang mga bata ngayon, totoong-totoo sa play. Kaya nakaka-relate tayong lahat maski na mayaman ka, mahirap ka, matanda, bata, nandun yung X factor kumbaga.

Alisah, is this your first time joining a musical?

Alisah Bonaobra: Dati po nag-join na ko pero parang organization lang. Ngayon lang po ako nakapag-join ng talagang from PETA and yung mga kasabayan ko talagang big time.

Kamusta yung experience so far and how is it different from your other singing experiences?

Alisah: Actually, nung first time ko na starstruck ako sa kanilang lahat kasi first time ko makasama as cast member din so kahit nasa esksena na  ko at sila na yung nanay ko, tatay ko, mga kapitbahay ko parang lutang  pa rin ako tapos iniimagine ko na ako pa rin yung audience tapos sasabihan nila ako ng “Hoy, Alisah, part ka na ng cast!” Yun lang, tapos sobrang overwhelmed.

Yung Rak of Aegis, siguro ang masasabi ko dito mate-test ang tibay ng lalamunan ko kasi sa ibang singing contests, once ka lang kakanta or mga thrice pero dito ilang shows, 82 shows, tapos hindi natin masabi kung ilan mapupunta sa akin, so talagang sabakan ng lalamunan ito.

Please give us a short introduction of your character in the play.

Robert: My character is Kiel. He’s a shoemaker, but very desperate since the shoe industry is deteriorating especially in the Philippines kasi nga most of the shoe factories, they get their materials from China na kaya humihina ang industry ng sapatos. Also, yung mga owners sa China na nagpapagawa, kaya disappointed siya tapos may mga baha-baha pa.

Isay: Mary Jane, the barangay captain, her character is very strong. She’s very caring for the barangay. Maybe the misgiving of Mary Jane is her relationship with her son, Kenny, but towards the end, naayos naman. All is well.

Tricia: I’m also Mary Jane. Siya yung negosyanteng single mom na trying to make ends meet. Meron siyang sapatusan na empleyado niya yung tatay at nanay ni Aileen, which is awkward kasi ex niya si Kiel. So since siya yung may pera at siya yung negosyante, medyo tinatry niya lang to work it out para matulungan niya kasi mahal naman din niya ang pamilya nila.

Alisah: Ako po si Aileen Dimaraan and nagiisang anak po ako ni Tatay Kiel and Nanay Mercy. Ako ay isang 21-year-old na nagtatrabaho sa isang mall. Ako lang po yungpositive sa work kasi yung mga kasamahan ko masyado silang negative sa boss ko, hindi kasi sila binibigyan ng bonus. Tapos si Aileen po sobrang umaasa siya kay Ellen DeGeneres. Hindi humadlang sa kanya yung kahirapan nila. Hindi humadlang sa kanya yung pagod at estado ng pamumuhay nila. Basta ang nasa utak niya sisikat siya.

Can you identify with your character?

Robert: Pareho kami sa advocacy na we want what is good for the community. We don’t like yung mga short cut na trabaho. Ayaw namin yung nagkakalat sa paligid kaya nagkakaroon ng mga baha. And he’s very loving.

Isay: Yes, kasi having children, is not that easy. Everyone is different. Kenny is like my child. You need to understand him more for you to appreciate him. He’s doing something else. Maybe he’s trying to make something out of it pero ikaw tingin mo wala kasi you’re so used to the young na wala lang, doing nothing pero may passion din naman sila.

Alisah: Yes, super! Si Aileen po kasi, medyo matanda lang ako sa kanya ng isang taon. Ako po, honestly, umaasa din ako kay Ellen DeGeneres kasi last two years nag-viral din po ako sa youtube and nagexpect din po talaga ko na aabot kay Ellen, yung “Let It Go” po. Kaso hindi po siya umabot kay Ellen. Eh ngayon po may nagva-viral ulit so, baka makarating na yun kay Ellen! Sana naman.

Please give us an idea of your preparation for your role.

Robert: Physically I had to lose some weight and grow a bit of a beard and moustache para medyo dumumi ang look ng konti. And also you have to understand kung ano talaga ang issue ng barangay na hindi na napapansin ng government at kung may nakakalimutan ba sila.

Isay: I was just true to the script the way I see Mary Jane. Our director allowed us to explore. Actually most of the things I’m doing now, it also came from my co-actors.

Tricia: Since napanood ko na kasi siya two times, may idea na ko how to play the kapitana. Hindi naman komplikado, pero ang tao naman sa totoong buhay, madami ka naman talagangsides, di ba? Meron kang negosyante side, may loving side, as a mom dapat strikto ka, hindi naman strikto pero dapat nakikinig sa yo ang mga anak mo. Si Kenny yung anak niya, in a way humuhugot ako ng experiences ko sa mga anak ko. Kasi yung mga lalaki talaga hindi nakikipag-usap yan eh so kailangan mo sila pilitin para makipagusap sa iyo which is nangyayari kay MJ sa anak niya. Yung, “Usap naman tayo, anak. Alis-ka ng alis eh.” Ganun din, I have a son who’s studying in Boston, so parang nakakalungkot na pag iniisip ko na yun ang sinasabi niya na, “Aalis ka eh.” So yun, yung pagka-nanay ko, yun siguro yungpreparation ko para sa role ko.

Alisah: Actually po, napanood ko na siya once. Nung first run yata kasi dati po isa ako sa nagbebenta ng ticket, so nagkaroon po kami ng opportunity na mapanood yung play ng buo. Si Ate Aicelle po ang napanood ko nun tapos sabi ko, “Kelan kaya ako tatapak sa stage na yan?” Yun po, tapos sabi ko, “Ang saya ng ganyang experience!” Dati po ako lang nagbebenta ng ticket, tapos ngayon nakakataba ng puso kasi ako na yung nasa play! Grabe, para po akong nilalamon ng stage! Dati audience lang ako, ngayon ako na po si Aileen.

What have been the challenges in preparing for Rak of Aegis?

Isay: Maybe the singing kasi medyo mahirap ang kanta. Your voice should always be in tip-top shape. Yan, husky na nga lagi. Bumalik na naman ang pagka-husky ng boses ko kasi nga pwersado.

Robert: Yung script niya is very limited lang for the character to express his role, so you have to reinvent some lines to put some more of your character in the story. Some of the singing parts are hard. You have to understand it’s from the Aegis band. Also it needs a little bit of harshness para sa earthy sound ng barangay kabit dun sa rock genre.

Tricia: The songs are hard to sing for me because I’m a soprano. I was classically trained in UP College of Music under Profesora Fides Asensio, so yun yung pinagaralan ko nung bata ako, classical music pero ito, puro birit!

Alisah: Challenges— siguro po yung experience ko. Kasi nga po first time kong mag-theater and mag-act. And yung mga kasabayan ko sobrang beterano na so kailangang ko po silang pantayan para maging maganda. And hindi naman po naging mahirap kasi lahat po sila nakasuporta po sa akin. As new cast member, sinasabihan nila ko ng, “relax ka lang”and “enjoy the scene.”

Who do you think is your target audience?

Robert: Ngayon, I believe it’s ABCD. The only thing, of course, watching a musical is quite expensive.

Isay: Ah, everybody. Everybody can watch the show kaya nga maganda, even with the whole family.

Random question, have you encountered audience singing with you while you’re performing on stage. Since we all know that Aegis’ songs are popular, sumasabay ba sila?

Robert: Yes, but without sound. You know why? Because the theater is small unlike kapag nanood sila sa malaking lugar, feeling nila hindi sila naririnig ng katabi nila.

Were you familiar with the songs of Aegis before this musical play?

Robert: Believe it or not, ngayon ko lang siya narinig. `Coz I wasn’t here in the ’90s. ’90s siya, di ba? Alam ko lang noon yung “Basang-basa sa Ulan” kasi I hear it sa commercials. Finally, when I learned about the songs, it’s quite poetic in a sense saka the melody is unique.

Isay: Of course medyo familiar yung “Basang-basa sa Ulan” pero yung iba hindi masyado.

Tricia: Doon lang, noong nanood ako. The first run, doon ko lang siya talaga nakilala na ganun pala sila kasikat, marami pala silang fans at saka ang lalakas ng boses, grabe!

Alisah: Opo, simula pa po bata kami, yun na po talaga kinakanta naming magkakapatid.

Among all the songs of Aegis, which one is the most striking for you?

Tricia: Yung “Basang-basa sa Ulan,” gustung-gusto ko yun.

Isay: There’s a new song, “Sayang na Sayang.”

Robert: “Luha.” I like the lyrics and melody.

Alisah: Yung “May Bukas Pa. Pero yung sa “Rak of Aegis” po yung “Basang-basa sa Ulan.

What is a memorable experience so far?

Isay: Bonding with the cast.

Robert: The friendship, the company. We’re like a family. There’s tatay, there’s nanay.Ate Isay is the nanay and I’m the tatay. Gusto nila kami bumalik sa show kasi feeling nila kailangan ng tatay.

Tricia: Nung nagre-rehearse na. Kasi di ba iba-iba yung Tolits, iba-iba yung Fernan. Ang mga Fernan sina Jon Santos, ang Kiel sina Robert Sena, si OJ, nasa-starstruck ako sa kanila. Every time ako may kaeksena. Minsan nanonood ako kasi nasa-starstruck ako sa kanila tapos natatawa ako so sabi ng director sa akin, “Hindi pwedeng tumawa! Masanay ka na.” Ewan ko, pero kasi if you see me watch, ilang beses ko na siya napanood sa rehearsals, tawa pa rin ako ng tawa! So I need to control myself, kapag ako na nasa eksena, hindi na ko pwede matawa.

Alisah: Yung group workshop. Yung ice breaker kasi dun po sa part na yun talagang nahihiya ako sa kanila. Imagine sina Ms. Isay, sina Sir Mike tapos yung ibang artists po para dati nangangarap lang ako makapagpa-picture sa kanila as a fan pero ngayon, kinakausap ka nila as part of the cast, as anak nila, as kapitbahay. So nung nag-ice breakerkami, talagang nakikipaglokohan sila kaya ako parang, “Wow, ito na talaga iyon.” Actually ngayon po, medyo-medyo nagsisink-in na po sa akin ang mga nangyayari pero nung mga 20th day namin ng rehearsal, talagang parang naguguluhan pa rin ako, ngayon parang sobrang saya na. So nararamdaman ko na si Aileen na sumasapi na siya sa akin.

Please describe PETA and its importance to art and culture.

Robert: It’s good that we have theater companies like PETA and they still do original Filipino musicals, even plays. Yung advocacy nila to uplift Filipino culture is intact, so it’s good.

Isay: Kasi PETA has been pushing and giving the arts and culture to the Filipinos especially to the young kaya nga siya educational theater. And they’re not only doing it here in Manila, they’re doing it all over the world, so I really commend them.

Finally, give us one word to describe Rak of Aegis.

RobertPuso

Isay: Universal

Alisah: Natural

Tricia: Fun. Pwedeng isa pa? Real. Kasi this is real life. Theater is life. Kapag nanonood ka, makikita  mo yung buhay mo and you make your life easier kapag nakita mo na, “ganun talaga ang buhay eh.” Don’t be discouraged, mahirap talaga, basta cool lang tayo. Makakasurvive ka sa kung ano man ang problema na pagdaraanan natin. I think that’s the message we want to impart.

The clamor to see it again has been strong, people have spoken and voices can no longer be silenced. We are finally given another chance to take a glimpse at what people have been asking for over and over, and over again. Now, why would you want to waste another opportunity at seeing Filipino creativity, musicality, and artistry all in one musical production?

Isay Alvarez-Seña shows off her vocal prowess in the musical, as she plays Mary Jane. Photo Credit: Cris Legapsi and M Espeña

Rak of Aegis is brought to us by the brilliant minds of Liza Magtoto (playwright), Maribel Legarda (stage director) and Myke Solomon (musical director). It will be shown at the PETA Theater from June 17 to August 28, 2016, with 3pm and 8pm schedules.

This article was first published on www.murphyreport.com. Reposted with permissionr. Read the original here.

This post was written by the author in their personal capacity.The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not reflect the view of The Theatre Times, their staff or collaborators.