By Amauche Anierobi
October 25, 2013, as the curtain rose to announce the first ever staging of the much-promoted and expected grand Broadway-style showpiece, SARO The Musical, history was made in the anal of Nigeria theatre. It was the beginning (or rebirth -- such scale of production hasn’t happened in a long while) of grand and ambitious theatrical dreams for the Nigerian stage, especially in the musical genre.
The setting of the venue, the huge multi-dimensional stage set, the colourful, expressive costumes, the elaborate light and sound input, plus the actors, dancers, musicians, stunts-men were showed that the scale and quality of vision of the producers of the show, led by Mrs Bolanle Austen-Peters -- MD of Terra Kulture Art Centre, Lagos – was indeed treasurable.
The performers all dazzled in their lovely and colourful costumes as they thrilled the audience with an enigmatic well-choreographed dance steps, competent acting skills and exquisite fusion of jazz, afro-beat, hip-hop, highlife, juju, apala, and such other contemporary Nigerian music genres.
The very first staging of the musical at 11 am that Friday brought over 2000 pupils and students from various Lagos schools into the prestigious new Oriental Hotel Lagos. The second show as expected – being a Friday afternoon -- recorded a modest crowd, a little more than half of the hall but the large hall was filled to the brim for the third show at 7pm, which was graced by the former governor of Lagos State, Senator Ashiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, and the state’s Commissioner for Tourism, Hon Disun Holloway. Others were the actor-couple Olu Jacobs and Joke Silva; the popular actress, Dakore Egbuson-Akande, who also played an exceptional role of a hostess in the musical, among other dignitaries.
The Day 2 of SARO was even more eventful drawing larger number of pupils and students for the first show, yet a modest crowd for the second and a filled hall of dignitaries for the third evening show, including the Nobel laureate, Prof. Wole Soyinka, the international actress Taiwo Ajai-Lycett, the poet, activist, Odia Ofeimun, the dramatist, culture journalist, Ben Tomoloju, the famed filmmakers, Tunde Kelani and Femi Odugbemi; the Architect and designer of the Freedom Park and the Kalakuta Museum, Theo Lawson; banker, Kayode Aderinokun and some top celebrities including the comedian Teju Babyface, the on-air-personality Steve Onuh aka Yaw, and others.
Said Mrs. Oluwatoyin Edun, one of the witnesses to this great event, “watching SARO has brought the whole Lagos thing back to me. Lagos is actually a land filled with opportunities where people actually come, find their dreams and keep them. I think it’s so amazing having a Nigerian do this for us; we’ve seen Fela on Broadway, Lyla King On Broadway but SARO (in Nigerian Broadway), happens to be a classic one”. (SEE MORE COMMENTS BELOW).
All three shows scheduled to hold for 11am, 3pm and 7pm were sold out. The children show at 11am in particular, had a massive turnout of students from about 20 schools including Pine Field School Lekki; Edgewood College Lekki; Temple Schools Ilupeju; and Greensprings Lekki.
At the end of the show, some of the students were debriefed on what they thought of the show, below are excerpts from their impressions:
OFONEDU-- Pine Field College; (Year 10)
It was really nice. It was fantastic
OLUCHI -- Pine Field College; (Year 10)
I was amazed, it was so good, and I lack words to describe it. It was more shocking knowing it was performed in Nigeria
FADERARAH OLATUNDE -- 13, Pine Field College; (Year 10)
It was way above my expectations, I actually thought I was going to watch a black and white history of Nigeria that would be boring, but I was actually fascinated by what they did.
OLAMA ECHIGBEWA, Temple School; (Year 8)
I was so happy because they combined a lot of traditions together and it was super nice
EZINNE, Temple school; (Year 8)
I heard it was going to be a play showing our different traditions. When I came here and started watching it, I saw different traditions and music from different times mixed together. Like they used Fela’s music and the way Fela composed his own different style of songs. I will be super glad if I get invited the next time something like this comes up.
JEDDIDIAH UMOSEN; Greensprings (Year7)
SARO was a good play; it combined the past and contemporary African music by different dynamic Nigerian artistes. It was different and I enjoyed it.
SONIA, Edgewood College Lekki; (Year 9)
I actually enjoyed it and I learnt that we should all embrace our beautiful culture.
With all the great comments from the children, some adults were also asked about the effect SARO had on them.
Veteran actor and actress Olu Jacobs and Joke Silva said the show is a good step in the right direction for theatre development in Nigeria.
However, while most of the commentary was on the positive side, some of the audience members weren’t impressed with the sound quality of the day 1, Though they showered endless praises on the technical input into the play which led to its rich spectacle, some complained that they found it difficult hearing the wordings of the actors but by the second day, the troublesome sound had been effectively tackled by the technical team led by Teju Kareem and his team, and thus they Day 2 was such a spleen did experience for the huge audience.
The technical team had adduced the initial sound problem to the nature of the hall – which is a banquet hall meant for dinner and balls and not a theatrical piece with its special demands on good acoustics. “We have mastered the demon, however, and tomorrow’s show will be saved from the problem, watch out,” said one of the tech team at the end of the first day, promising a better, greater show for the second day – a promise that was indeed delivered to the delight of the large turn out of audiences for the three shows.
After the evening show on Day 2, Saturday October 26, some of the audience members also shared their experiences:
KAYODE ADERINOKUN (poet, art enthusiast, banker):
“This play has raised the bar from where we used to know in dance drama. It has brought real quality and substance to the art industry in the country. We are quite appreciative of what Mrs. Bolanle Austen-Peters is doing because there is quite a lot of storage of talents but you need resources and results to harness them. The combination of resources, determination and talent is what crystallized in the work we had tonight. We hope that many more people will start thinking outside the box. I would like to see many more of this.”
MR. & MRS AKINRIBADE:
It was quite innovative and exciting. We liked it; we loved it. It was very, very good.
MR. SIKI ALIYU:
This is one of the best Nigerian shows I have ever watched. It was very well organized, very nice and very enjoyable. It was a very nice one; I would watch it over and over and over again.
SEGUN ADEFILA, (dancer, choreographer, art activist)
I think our theatre is coming of age. The last time we had this kind of performance was in the day of Okonji in the 60s, where they put all the elements into the production. It was a breath-taking performance, the choreography was good, I saw the commitment, and the end product proved that a lot of work was put in it. I am obviously overwhelmed by SARO and coming from that background, I don’t have any complaints because I know what it takes to put all this together.
FRANCIS ONWOCHEI (actor, Nollywood director, Theatre activist):
This is an absolutely brilliant performance, the best I have seen in Nigeria. The closest memory I have of this is seeing Lion King in England. For me, I am really, really impressed. I am so entertained and I feel very glad that I'm able to make today, to see SARO. It's beautiful and I wish them the best. I trust and hope that many more quality productions like this will come out of Nigeria.
LOLA SHONEYIN (Poet, novelist and literature activist):
I loved the re-enactment of the juju music of Obey, Shina Peters, Sunny Ade; I thought that was really lovely. The music was absolutely fantastic. Kudos, kudos, kudos to the orchestra, they were amazing. After seeing SARO, I have very, very high hopes for theatre in Nigeria.
UGOMMA ADEGOKE (Fashion Designer , Art programmist)
I enjoyed every bit of the SARO experience. The climax for me though, from the technical point of view, was the Bata dance. It was mind blowing.
WANA (On-Air personality):
It was magical. I mean the music and the dancing was incredible. I'll have to say, at first it looked like a very ambitious project but I'll give it to them for pulling it off. Everyone has their own personal issues in there but beyond that the music and the dancing was totally amazing.
The show is very good but it would be good to take it outside Lagos, so it can tour the country. It is a revelation that people should enjoy. It is a combination of music, dance and drama that took us down the slave trade era then Saro, the future.
It was a very well produced show. Very well entertaining.
Quite good. I'm quite impressed with the theatre industry right now.
It was nice, good history of Lagos and it also showed us the evolution of Nigerian music as well. It was very good and well produced. I would love for it to come to England.
It's really good but I think they need to come back again and not just this long weekend thing. It should come back again in Christmas, Africa and especially Nigeria needs shows like this musical and not the conventional clubbing and all that.
I enjoyed it very, very, very much. The dancing was very good but there is always a better way of doing things because I could tell the professional dancers from the non-professionals. It's a first expedition of the production and I want to see it again and this is a mandate to the production team of SARO. I want to see SARO again perhaps at Christmas, Easter or some other time when there would be a large audience attraction. I want to see it again and if want to see it better and I want to enjoy it again twice as much as I did tonight.
It was pretty awesome. It was cool. I would like to see more of this.
It is wonderful. What can I say? It is great. Quite distinctively different. It was very amazing and without a doubt, I'll definitely want to see more of this.
It was great; I enjoyed it. It was relaxing as well.
It was amazing. It was really, really nice. I liked the combination of all kinds of music -- from juju to Afrobeat to Afro Hip-Hop. They did a very good job and I'm very impressed.
It was really great. It was fantastic. The Nigerian music was weaved-in excellently. I would say it is a great start.
It is outstanding. It has left me dumbfounded. I really, really enjoyed it. It shows the history of Nigerian music and how it all evolved. From the past to the present; from Haruna Ishola to 'Go Down Low'... I enjoyed it.
I believe the organization is wonderful. The people behind the idea should be encouraged and I would advice they take it beyond Lagos to Abuja, Port-Harcourt and various parts of the country. It was outstandingly wonderful.
It was really good and I'll like to see it over and over again; keeping a date with SARO.
All I can say is that I would like to watch it every week. That is how good it was. I'll like to say to those who didn't see this show, they've have missed partaking in a historical moment right here. It was definitely a fantastic performance.
Everything was really nice. It was a total package. I really wanted to see it through to the end; that is to tell you how interesting it was. Please we want SARO to be an annual thing.
It's a total concept -- from the singers to the dancers -- they were all very good.