Photos by Kyle Venturillo
Until recently, I’ve never actually listened to the band Aegis on purpose — but I know the words to Basang-basa sa Ulan almost by heart. That’s probably because I’ve heard it on the radio unknowingly while I was growing up, while watching Sunday noontime TV, or overhearing it on the neighbor’s karaoke machine late at night. Or maybe it’s just a standard feature of being Filipino.
Aegis songs are perfectly tuned for Filipino ears: they are filled with emotion, heartbreaking lyrics, and have a never-ending supply of birit moments. They are the masters of the ridiculous Filipino singing competition genre, in which good equals belting high notes like there’s no tomorrow. But even then, they are so good at it that nothing else matters.
So what do you get when you take Aegis songs and put them in a musical? One hell of a show, and then some. Rak of Aegis, staged by the Philippine Educational Theater Association (PETA), weaves the iconic songs into a story about the Filipino condition, and the result is more enriching than you’d expect.
Birit queen: One of Rak of Aegis‘ lead stars Shaira Opsimar, who plays Aileen, hits all the right notes in the musical’s sixth run.
Rak of Aegis tells the story of Aileen (Shaira Opsimar), a promo girl with dreams of going viral on YouTube, getting discovered by Ellen DeGeneres, and going on to become a famous singer. She lives in Villa Venezia, a slum plagued by perpetual flood. The entire community is down in the dumps (literally and figuratively) because their means of livelihood are being sabotaged by the stagnant water, and their feet have not touched dry land for months at this point.
But there is so much more to Rak than just this heartwarming story of bayanihan. Throughout the musical, little nods to other issues plaguing the country touch us
The entire story is about the barangay overcoming the flood and eventually embracing it as a means to survive. Once Aileen gains popularity for a video of her singing in the rain (she sings Basang-basa sa Ulan, naturally), the community rallies to mount a concert for her, counting on the novelty that a girl singing in a flood will draw enough crowds to bring them some monetary relief.
But there is so much more to Rak than just this heartwarming story of bayanihan. Throughout the musical, little nods to other issues plaguing the country touch us. When the barangay tries to ask for help from city hall, their plea falls on deaf ears. In Aileen’s department store job, workers get screwed out of getting their Christmas bonuses, and Aileen gets fired when she tries to escalate the issue. Then they figure out that the cause of the stagnant water is the construction of a new rich-people subdivision next door, which, it turns out, was given a green light by corrupt government officials.
It sounds like a lot on paper, and that’s because it is. Rak is stuffed to the brim with the Filipino experience. But it doesn’t feel this way at all, because everything is sewn together seamlessly. The play plunges you into the lives of the people from Villa Venezia, and you get to swim along for the ride, immersed in every problem they face. Shortly after the show begins, you realize that despite the ridiculous situation the characters are in, this is the reality of many Filipinos across the country. It’s a wakeup call, really — especially to those who can afford to go sit and watch inside a theater.
These realizations are matched with some pretty powerful performances by the cast and ensemble, who do justice to both Aegis’s discography and the Filipino struggle they portray. Shaira Opsimar’s voice is almost unmatched; indeed, it’s a talent that is among the likes actually discovered by Ellen DeGeneres. Kakai Bautista as Aileen’s mom Mercy, and Isay Alvarez-Seña as Mary Jane the barangay captain, are both formidable mothers with equally strong performances. A real treat is Renz Verano (Sing it with me: “Remember me/ Kapag nag-iisa…”) as Aileen’s dad Kiel, whose signature rasp is just as iconic as that of Aegis.
Now in its sixth run (I don’t know why it took me this long to see it, honestly), Rak of Aegis is well on its way to becoming a classic, just like the band it pays tribute to. Perfectly attuned to the Filipino condition.
Rak of Aegis runs until Sept. 2 at the PETA Theater. For tickets, go to Ticketworld.com.ph.