These days, two women are lighting up the stage at the Peta Theater Center, where “Rak of Aegis” has returned for its record-setting sixth rerun, having racked up over 400 performances as of this writing since its 2014 premiere.
Jenine Desiderio (of the original West End cast of “Miss Saigon”) is the new Mary Jane, captain of fictional, perennially flooded Barangay Venezia, where the story takes place. Leah Patricio, third placer in “The Voice of the Philippines” Season 2, is now Mercy, mother of Aileen, whose big voice and even bigger dream of landing a spot on “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” set the story in motion.
Both women are among the seven new principal cast members of the musical, which, as we wrote in our review of the 2016 run, has become “a pilgrimage site of sorts for performers.” But they are the only ones who hit their respective marks unequivocally.
Their roof-rattling singing is a given (as it should be with anyone who joins “Rak”). But what makes them two of the best casting additions in the musical’s entire history is how completely they embody the spirit of camp.
Onstage, beyond being such generous actresses, they are devoid of vanity; when they go big, they go really, really big—and also appropriately loud, in Patricio’s case—you realize you haven’t laughed this much while watching “Rak,” an already pretty hilarious show to begin with.
Desiderio is even more noteworthy: She’s the only Mary Jane we’ve seen who has been able to unleash the character’s comic potential.
Reason to revisit
Those who are seeing the musical for only the first time should be so lucky to catch Desiderio and Patricio in their respective roles. Those who are considering revisiting the show should find the women reason enough to do so.
Never mind that the other new additions to the cast don’t fare as well. For instance, singer-songwriter Noel Cabangon is a rather stiff actor, even if he aces the vocal acrobatics of his role as Aileen’s father.
Bayang Barrios, as an alternate to Desiderio, is more puzzling: She sure can sing those Aegis tunes—her voice giving the show authentic, rock-star huskiness—but her characterization is all over the place, relying on unnecessary ad-libs as a crutch, even as the role has been retooled to accommodate her Bisaya tongue.
The worst, however, is matinee idol Derrick Monasterio, in the role of jologs boatman Tolits—for which he is absolutely, painfully miscast. Tolits is supposed to be Aileen’s romantic second choice—not conventionally handsome; always has been and is used to being overlooked; “nutty” and “deliriously zany,” to go by former Inquirer Theater editor Gibbs Cadiz’s appraisal of Pepe Herrera’s definitive take on the role.
Monasterio is neither nutty nor deliriously zany, and looks like he can win the Mister Universe title in his sleep.
If further proof were needed that theater is a process of constant evolution and learning from mistakes—what works, what doesn’t work, who is or isn’t fit for a certain role—here it is. —CONTRIBUTED
“Rak of Aegis” runs until Sept. 29 at Peta Theater Center, Quezon City. ticketworld.com.ph