AFTER much hype and expectations, Nigeria’s first big music drama hit the stage in Lagos at a grand premiere and several shows last weekend. From October 25 to 28, many Nigerians, who are passionate about theatre, trooped out in their large numbers to Oriental Hotel, Victoria Island, Lagos, to see for themselves what founder of Terra Kulture, Mrs. Bolanle Austen-Peters and her had in store for them.
It turned out a titillating experience, as the big musical unfolded on stage with deft interpretation of the journey of four young men to the city in pursuit of their dreams.
The venue, the huge multi-dimensional stage, the colourful and expressive costumes, elaborate light and sound input, plus the actors, dancers, musicians, stunts-men showed that the scale and quality of vision of the producers of the show was indeed remarkable. 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. It 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.
On Day 2, it was even more eventful, as it drew larger number of pupils and students for the first show. But it was a modest crowd for the second and a filled hall of dignitaries for the 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.
Also on hand at the opening was Minister of Culture, Tourism and national Orientation, Edem Duke, who described the production as simply phenomenal. Duke commended Executive Producer, Bolanle Austen-Peters and her team, for the excellent production.
He said, “Bolanle Austen-Peters has gone around into the recesses of Lagos and recesses of Nigeria; she has brought the rough and the smooth and merged them into a kaleidoscope of stars. This is truly fascinating Nigeria. This is the commonwealth of Nigeria. This is the property that we have several years to enjoy and I want to say she is a phenomenal lady to have thought about all of this,” Duke said.
Having seen what Nigerians can do with little resources, Duke fell short of saying his ministry would bankroll the next production, which he ought to have done. But instead, he pleaded with corporate Nigeria to sponsor the show and take it to Abuja and other Nigerian cities instead of wasting money on foreign artistes and groups that do not add value to Nigeria’s cultural heritage as Saro the Musical is capable of doing, being an essentially Nigerian story.
According to Duke, “Often time, we get invited to different venues in Lagos where corporate organisations have gone to South Africa, to East Africa to bring individuals and groups to entertain us but here we are the very best of Africa. A repertoire of songs and dances, properly choreographed, dexterous dancers, pulsating drumbeats and the musical is just phenomenal.
“If you (corporate Nigeria) could be kind enough to take this show to Abuja, take this show to other parts of the country, so that we can see that our young men and women are talented. If you can do it [sponsor the production] as Christmas gift to us, it will be wonderful”.
Other dignitaries also voiced their appreciation of Austen-Peters’ bold initiative in sticking out her neck to produce a musical of such grand scale. One of was poet, art enthusiast and banker, Kayode Aderinokun, who said, “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 have seen. We hope that many more people will start thinking outside the box. I would like to see many more of this.”
Dancer, choreographer, art activist Segun Adefila also said of Saro the Musical, “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”.
Nollywood actor, director and theatre activist, Francis Onwochei noted, “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”.
Also commending saro… Production was poet, organizer of Ake Book and Art Festival and author of The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives, Lola Shoneyin. She noted, “I loved the re-enactment of the juju music of Obey, Shina Peters, Sunny Ade; I thought that was really lovely.”