The special preview of America’s Broadway-style theatrical production, Saro; The Musical to the Nigerian public which was held Tuesday, September 10 at Terra Kulture, Victoria Island, Lagos., left with applause and commendations to the producers and cast alike.
The special preview of four scenes out the total 14 that make the musical and which lasted a little over thirty minutes had in attendance carefully selected notable names in Nigeria theatrical circuit, the art academic world, patrons of the Creative industries, potential sponsors, as well as senior Arts and Culture journalists from nearly all the leading media houses.
Those who witnessed the official unveiling of the big theatre dream included Lagos State Commissioner for Tourism, Mr. Disun Holloway; renowned actress, Mrs Taiwo Ajai-Lycett , fondly called matriarch of the Nigerian stage; renowned dramatist, director and culture journalist, Ben Tomoloju; former Artistic Director of National Troupe of Nigeria, and current Dean of Humanities at the Redeemer University, Professor Ahmed Yerima.
Others include; lawyer, art patron, Mrs Myma Belo-Osagie; popular actress, and now managing Director of the Malete Film Village, Mrs. Joke Silva; and renowned TV personality and CEO of EbonyTV, Mo Abudu.
There was also the Consul-General of the French Embassy, Francoise Sastourne; Dr Tunde Awosanmi, a teacher of directing from University of Ibadan; Mr Deji Toye a lawyer, playwright and poet; and Mr Ola Fajemisin, manager programme at the Nigeria Television Authority.
The club of celebrities was led by the afro-pop musical icon, Innocent ‘TuFace’ Idibia; and included, the actress Kate Henshaw; and On-Air personalities, Steve Onu (Yaw) of Wazobia FM, Chris Ihidero of TopFM, and Wana Udobong of Inspiration FM, among others.
Among potential sponsors were representatives from telecom, oil, and other multinational companies, and financial institutions. Other institutions include Lagos State Government; Africa Magic; Ebonylife TV; Flytime TV and Oleander.
The intention of the preview, according to the producer of the show, Mrs. Bolanle Austen-Peters, was to showcase the progress so far recorded since rehearsals commenced on August 9.
The premiere of the show slated for October 25 through the 27th at the new Banquet Hall of the Lagos Oriental Hotel Lagos, was still six (6) weeks away but the producer, and her team of directors, said they felt confident enough to exhibit the progress so far – to “assure Nigerians that we were serious when we said we are going to give them the biggest and most impressive theatrical offering in recent times.”
Expectations were of course high among the 50-odd guests who witnessed the preview, especially as the hall had been primed ready with the stage bearing the ambience of a full-scale performance. The backdrop had a golden design of the name of the show, and there was a miniature set ready to host the preview.
As guests settled into the hall a short documentary on the making of the Broadway-style show played on two giant screens. The documentary revealed how the dream was born; nurtured and how it has gradually moved towards realisation with the four weeks of rehearsals.
The process of auditioning, which drew participation of a huge number of mostly youths, and the subsequent workshops that produced the final script and as well the cast, was also shown in the documentary. These snapshots of experiences elucidated on the seriousness of the project and the quality of the vision albeit the genuine-ness of the intentions of the producer and her team.
Then came the launch of the radio jingle and TV promos, which were expected to breakout on the various broadcast stations from this week.
The creator and producer of the musical, Mrs. Austen-Peters, also founder, Managing Director of the famous art centre, Terra Kulture, leading the guests into the vision that birthed Saro; The Musical said over seven-years engagement with theatrical production and promotion through the Theatre@Terra scheme, had imbued her organisation, Terra Kulture, with the capacity and boldness to envision a grand theatrical package of the magnitude of the musical.
“We are not afraid to embark on a project of this scale because we have been through it all in the past seven years. We have encountered lot of challenges in running the Theatre@ Terra but we have also mastered how to surmount the challenges; so we understand the way to handle a project of this magnitude”, she said to wide applause from the audience.
She continued: “Through our engagement with the Theatre, we have been able to create over 500 jobs for both young and old. We believe that it is only in the art that our country has comparative advantage and; though there is no funding from government or private individuals, many people like musical stars TuFace, D’Banj and others have triumphed against all odds”.
She also made reference to the success already recorded by the local film industry otherwise called Nollywood, which through private sector investment and willpower, has been described as the third largest film industry in the world.
She noted: “Nigerians are some of the smartest people in the world but because there is no funding in the country to help people realise intelligent ideas, we have not been able to actualise our artistic projects and harness our full potentials in the creative economy. But it is the private sector that can give us the opportunity to achieve these dreams; and help us tackle unemployment among our youths.”
Explaining the journey, Austen-Peters said, the auditioning of Saro witnessed a large turn-out of about 200 young people of various local and international backgrounds looking for a platform to showcase their talents; and this is something we can do for youths, as a way of securing our future”.
On the process of preparing the musical theatre so far, she said: “Over the past three (3) months we started, other people have come on board to lend support to our dream which they share and believe in.
Thereafter guests were treated to only four of the 14-scenes in the musical. Though mainly the opening sequences, the excerpt was like a dessert to whet the appetite before a sumptuous meal that Saro; The Musical really is.
It is basically the story of four ambitious young men who left their rural homestead in search of hope and fulfilment in a strange city of Lagos. The play captures their various experiences as they seek realisation of their dreams and career fulfilment in the land of freedom -- Lagos. It is a story of adventure, youthful dreams, sheer determination to succeed; and eventual hope; a very positive, hopeful story indeed.
Commenting, Prof. Yerima, a playwright and director himself, who expressed appreciation to Mrs. Austen-Peters for coming up with the project; which is needed at this time of a seeming cultural renaissance in the country, appreciated the engagement of the youths to execute the project, adding that Nigerian youths have incredible talents that should be fully tapped through projects such as Saro
Yerima, however, warned that the directors should ensure that the length of the play is not too long; and the pace is evenly measured; so as to sustain the interest of the audience.
On his part, Lagos Tourism Commissioner, Holloway, who before his political appointment, had been known as the chief promoter of the Lagos Carnival and Eko Beauty pageant – all of which have now become part of the Lagos Black Heritage Festival, LBHF, held over the Easter holiday every year; said he was glad to have been invited to foretaste the musical, which he acknowledged is indeed in the Broadway-style.
“I have no regret cancelling every other appointment just to make it here today even though the period of notification was short. What I have seen is wonderful... The timing and sequence touched me greatly. I enjoyed it and look forward to it... We are doing quite a bit to promote the arts in Lagos State; and we shall see what to do to support this venture,” remarked Holloway.
The veteran septuagenarian actress, Mrs. Ajai-Lycett said the bit of the play she saw was “fantastic”. She also praised the vision of the creator and producer of the theatrical piece, saying it would go a long way in the revival of big live theatre project in the country. “I am an actor and I love to act; unfortunately, we don’t have enough of theatre in Nigeria. I wish we could have more of it. This is an artistic splendour; we taught the world how to dance but some people took the ovation. Now, with this, we are taking it back to them…
Art patron, chairman of the fledgling Arts and Business Foundation, Mrs Bello Osagie, congratulated the producer, members of cast and crew for a good display of talents and skills.
“I can’t imagine what it takes to put this together. The music is wonderful, very expressive; everybody here should help in publicizing it in a way to help out.”
In a solidarity message, the Nobel laureate, Prof Wole Soyinka, who was also expected as a special guest at the Preview had written: ‘first let me congratulate you on this venturous ‘branching out’, sending you very warm wishes for its success... it does look most likely that I shall catch one of the October performances -- keeping my fingers crossed, and looking forward to it”.
Also, Octogenarian Mrs Francesca Yetunde Emanuel, a veteran actress, art aficionado and first female permanent secretary at the federal level, had written to the producer, “I am very much encouraged and delighted by this project as its success will open the doors for our myriads of talents and you will set high standards for Nigerian productions, which will earn the respect and admiration of the world…”