MANILA -- (UPDATE) Last Friday, July 19, there was pandemonium at Villa Venizia when Cardo Dalisay, President Oscar Hidalgo and member of Task Force Agila went to watch "Rak of Aegis" at the PETA Phinma Theater. You're probably living under a rock for ages if you don't know who Dalisay and his team are.
But the night was made more special because it marked the debut of Randy Santiago in professional theater as he played the shrewed businessman Fernan, the musical's comic contravida, the real-estate developer whose subdivision project beside Villa Venizia causes flooding that lasts for weeks.
In the past six seasons of the most successful original Pinoy musical in this decade, "Rak of Aegis" has brought a lot of veteran actors and pop artists to the PETA stage, like singer Renz Verano of "Remember Me" fame.
"Ngayon, dumadami na ang mga matatandang sumasali. Nagiging edad ko na rin," Verano said in jest prior to the opening of "Rak." And when he said this , he was looking at Santiago, Jenine Desiderio, Bayang Barrios and Noel Cabangon. In the ongoing run, Desiderio and Barrios play alternates for Mary Jane, the barangay captain in Villa Venizia, while Cabangon plays Kiel, the father of Aileen, whose obscurity-to-fame story "Rak" is centered on.
Kundirana and Cue
But while Cabangon, Desiderio and Barrios have theatrical experiences we can find via Google or among the few theater files in the nearest library, only few may know that Santiago has been a theater actor, director and everything in between.
That's because Santiago's records in theater can only be found, as of posting, in the libraries of La Salle Greenhills. All this happened before he entered show business and became a matinee idol in the 1980s up to the middle of 1990s.
A product of Lasallian education in his formative years, Santiago recalled essaying the roles of Leading Player in "Pippin," Danny Zuko in "Grease," Jesus in "Godspell" and a lot more in school productions.
"Grade school pa lang ako sa La Salle hanggang high school, it's either director or actor ako sa mga musicals and plays. High school siyempre member ako ng Kundirana at may mga ginagawa ako for Cue," Santiago told ABS-CBN News.
Kundirana is the school's famous singing group whose alumni include Gary Valenciano, Ogie Alcasid, Dingdong Avanzado, Gian Magdangal, among others, while Cue is the drama club of La Salle Greenhills.
Santiago recalled acting with now-Senator Risa Hontiveros. "She joined us sa 'Grease.' She's from St. Scholastica's College high school department. Mga seniors sa high school. Kasi our school would invite actresses from other schools for our joint productions then," he said.
How long has it been? "Mga 40 years ago na 'yun. Ganda noon. I was in my first year in college sa La Salle din pero I joined the senior high school, 'yung Cue theater group," he said.
"Pareho kami ni Myke (Salomon), galing din ng Cue productions. Balikan ko lang 'yung nakaraan. We were trained to love singing and acting. Doon kami nagsimula," he added.
Salomon is the musical director of "Rak of Aegis" and has been playing Kenny, the other suitor to Aileen.
At this point, Salomon, in jest, corrected Santiago. "Teka magka-batch ba tayo?" Salomon told Santiago. "Born 1984 ako, batch '84 ka."
"Dinis-own mo ako?" Santiago answered, laughing. "Batch '79 pa nga eh, ganun na katanda."
Recovering from laughter, Santiago clarified what he meant was, he and Salomon have the same high-school training in music and performing, at the very least. He has nothing but good words for Salomon. "Si Myke, sobrang dedicated sa craft. Basta mahirap ikuwento, mas matanda ako sa kanya. Marami na akong pinagdaaanan at nakasalamuha. At happy ako para sa kanya, binayayaaan tayo ng maraming musicals. I hope marami pa syang gagawing plays for us."
Santiago mentioned he'd be happy if Salomon could create a musical using "Babaero" and his other compositions.
Mention "Babaero" to any member of the Titos and Titas of Manila and they would Randy Santiago. In the 1980s and the earlier part of the 1990s when Santiago became a TV host and recording artist, we personally recall how almost all the boys in school would wear sunglasses, or shades, as we called it then. Everyone wanted to look like Santiago, including the mullet hairstyle and jackets with shoulder pads.
While fellow Kundirana alumnus Gary Valenciano was being groomed to be the Michael Jackson of the Philippines and Martin Nievera was the fast-talking, English-speaking balladder, Santiago with his naughty sense of humor was the singing idol of the masses. His "Babaero," "Hindi Magbabago," and "Para Sa 'Yo," among other hits were anthems in street-corner-under-the-lampposts drinking binges by kanto boys and amateur singing contests in far-flung barrios by male crooners wearing shades even at nighttime.
All those 40 years, Santiago acted in films and some soaps but never in plays. But he continued watching theater.
"More on the musicals, hindi lang straight plays. Mga Broadway," he said, referring to some trips abroad and he'd find time to watch musicals. And in one of those weekends with family and friends in Manila, he chanced upon "Rak of Aegis."
"Siyempre naririnig mong may maingay (popular) like 'Rak of Aegis.' I think it was Season 5. Kami nina Rowell (Santiago) isang linya kami," he said.
As to how he became part of "Rak," he recalled giving his number to Legarda. "Kasi sabi ko, I am just a text away. Hindi ko nga alam bakit ko binigay number ko. And ang sabi sa text, 'Can you join Rak of Aegis?' Hindi ko alam na siya yun. Baka nagbibiro lang. Ang sagot ko, 'Who you?'"
When he finally met up with Legarda and Salomon and talked about the role and the shows he's going to handle, he recalled he was given the September playdates. "Masaya ako siyempre pero later, na-realize ko, aba teka, eh parang closing weekends na 'yun. Parang last day," he said in jest.
"Seriously, I'd like to thank Maribel for convincing me to join 'Rak.' Ibang pakiramdam na naman. Ang biro ko nga sa kanya, nagsimula ako sa mga plays sa schools. Tapos eto 'Rak,' sabi ko baka magmukhang classroom play 'pag kasama ako."
After all those decades in show business, Santiago hasn't forgotten his theater roots and like learning how to ride a bike again, he knew the adjustments he had to make.
Turning really serious this time, Santiago explained the difference between being a pop artist and a theater actor. "Iba ang discipline ng theater. Kapag solo artist, walang nakikialam. As pop singer, kanta lang ng kanta, di ba? Isa lang ako. Sa theater, it's either they like you or dislike you. Important 'yung camaraderie. Very new kami," he said.
Upon realizing that he is the only one above 50 joining the production, he paused for awhile before saying, "Ay ako lang pala. Mga luma na kasi sila (actors doing 'Rak of Aegis' for years)."
"Pero whatever happens, am here to learn. Kailangan dedicated ka eh. 'Pag sinabing you have to be there from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. for rehearsals, kahit matatanda kaming artista, andun kami," he added.
"That's why I joined 'Rak'. Gusto ko sumama sa mga ensemble ng mga bata. Kaya lang nakakatabi ko mga matatanda," he said, while looking at veteran actors Rody Vera and Gie Onida, his alternates in playing Fernan. From a few meters, there was the grinning Renz Verano. "Kaya tuwang tuwa si Renz Verano, noong nakita nya ako first time sa rehearsals, tinawag niya kaagad ako, 'Kuya Randy, Kuya Randy!'"
Again trying to be serious, he said, "Bumabata ang pakiramdam ko. Kung ano maibibigay ko, I will give my 100 percent."
And proof to that was his July 19 debut that also marked his official return to theater after four decades in show business. Despite the presence of his brothers Rowell and Raymart, lead star Coco Martin and the rest of the cast members of "Ang Probinsyano," many who witnessed the performance said it was among the most hilarious and jampacked.
Santiago's comeback was both historic and historical. Mr. Shades, the one and only "babaero," is now a certified professional theater actor.
"Rak of Aegis" runs until September 29.