Erich Gonzales is paired anew with Enchong Dee for ABS-CBN's modern remake of the Mexican telenovela, Maria la del Barrio. (CLICK HERE to view photos of the cast members of the 2011 version) Photo: ABS-CBN

Viewers of ABS-CBN's Maria la del Barrio finally caught a glimpse of lead star Erich Gonzales yesterday, August 17, three days after the primetime series made its debut last Monday.

Maria la del Barrio is a remake of the hit 1996 telenovela bannered by Mexican actress-singer Thalia—whose popularity here in the Philippines surged after the phenomenal success of Marimar in 1994.

This remake is not Erich's coming-out party as a true actress. That distinction belongs to the 2009 TV adaptation of the classic film Katorse, where Erich assumed the role originally portrayed by Dina Bonnevie.

But the time gap between Katorse, which was aired from August 2009 to January 2010, and Maria la del Barrio (August 2011) feels like history already, especially in the highly competitive boob tube industry that is known to change programs in rapid succession based on rating figures.

Hence, Maria la del Barrio marks Erich's comeback in the primetime fold as perhaps a much better and improved lead star.

For this series, Erich abandons her distinct mestiza features to fit into the role of a poor barrio lass named Maria Hernandez.

It is both a welcome and entertaining move, and it definitely will help the Kapamilya actress separate herself from the character she previously gave life to in her previous primetime project.

Acting wise, and based on the initial few scenes shown, Erich looks tailor-made for the role; with her natural ability to summon naïve, childlike qualities with relative ease.

It will be interesting, though, to see how Erich will manage the transition in Maria's life and personality as the plot thickens.

Maria la del Barrio, after all, is consistent with the formula used in almost all of Thalia's telenovelas: a carefree and innocent young lady, who later on will be unfairly tangled up in cruel deceit, lies, and discrimination.

The first encounter between Maria and a half-naked Luis Fernando Dela Vega (portrayed by Enchong Dee) guarantees the "kilig" factor commonly sought by local viewers.

Erich's portrayal of young affection in the presence of a good-looking stranger, which suddenly leads to embarrassment and panic, successfully bridges the connection between the two main characters of the story.

It's too early to judge the overall performance of Erich and Enchong at this point, however, and to gauge how the program measures up to the original version.