THE audience was not disappointed, the much hyped ‘Saro the Musical’ lived up to their expectation. Two shows having been held earlier in the day, it was Friday’s (the opening day) last show and Oriental Hotel, Victoria Island, was buzzing one hour to the commencement time.
Those who had not bought their tickets quietly went about doing so while others exchanged greetings and backslaps. Smartly-dressed waiters went around serving drinks as the 7pm commencement time slowly approached.
There was slight commotion at the entrance; photographers began struggling for vantage positions to get shots. That could only mean one thing, the arrival of a very important personality.
We turned to look and former governor of Lagos State and leader of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Bola Ahmed Tinubu came into view. He, also, could not resist the draw of the Broadway style production. But he wasn’t the only eminent Nigerian, who came to see the show.
Minister of Tourism, Culture and National Orientation, Edem Duke; another APC stalwart and banker, Fola Adeola; Lagos State Commissioner for Tourism, Disun Holloway; Minority Leader of the House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila; former Lagos State Health Commissioner, Leke Pitan; Olu Jacobs and his wife, Joke Silva, and Canada-based writer, Bunmi Oyinsan were also in the House.
Nobel Laureate, Wole Soyinka; actress Taiwo Ajai-Lycett; poet and activist, Odia Ofeimun; culture journalist and activist, Ben Tomoloju; filmmakers Tunde Kelani and Femi Odugbemi; Theo Lawson, designer of Freedom Park and the Kalakuta Museum, and banker Kayode Aderinokun, were amongst others who would see the play before it closed on Sunday.
The doors to the hall were opened some minutes after 7 pm; we filed in and took our seats, eager for the show to begin. But wait we must. Comedian and compere, Teju ‘Baby Face’ Oyelakin, eased us into the right mood for the show with some jokes while Bunmi Aboderin summarised what ‘Saro: The Musical’ is about. But she needn’t have worried, we all got it by the time the curtains fell.
Upon entering the hall, what first struck us was the stage. It wasn’t the common type. The multi-dimensional stage wasn’t unlike the sitting room of a well-arranged duplex with wings on both sides looking down on it. Strategically placed on the right was the orchestra while the left served as an extension to the main stage downstairs. Serving as backdrop was a giant 3D screen ingeniously used by the technical team led by Z-mirage’s Teju Kareem to create the right ambience and mood for the scenes. This eliminated the need for several props and aided in the swift transition from one scene to the other.
Saro’s story is simple and uncomplicated. It is in the telling - interspersed with good music and dance - that the cast and crew excelled. Four young musicians - Laitan, Obaro, Efe and Azeez - leave their village and head to Lagos, supposedly flowing with milk and honey, and where the streets are paved with gold, to make a name for themselves.
They also need to shut the mouths of the critics back home who see them as local champions that should go test their mettle against the finest in the city. Laitan’s (Patrick Diabuah) case is worsened by the fact that his girlfriend’s father, does not find him worthy of his daughter. He is reluctant to leave but Rume (Adesua Etomi) convinces him to join the others. Her argument is that by becoming successful in the city, her father would have no choice than to sanction their relationship.
The scene where the lovebirds bid themselves farewell with the song ‘Maa gbagbe mi’ is touching and poignant. A true gentleman, Laitan does not forget Rume even with the advances from the bumbling, hyperactive Jane (Ade Laoye), who makes passes at him in Lagos.
Anticipating what awaits them in Lagos, the quartet declares regarding their impending arrival: “Awon ara Eko yi a gba,” a mantra they belt at the top of their voices as they head to Lagos, unaware that the city is not for slackers.
Apart from falling victim to ‘Area Boys,’ who collect money for ‘looking’ and ‘standing’ as they marvel at the sights and sounds of the city, they are also robbed. They end up in a police cell for fighting with the miscreants that ‘obtained’ them.
Their musical talent, however, saves them as their eventual benefactor, who has come to bail the miscreants hear them singing. The music enthusiast and promoter takes them to his house and names the quartet ‘Saro’. He and his two female associates, who have been looking for something fresh musically, eventually become their sponsors.
Intertwined with the story of the quartet is the story of Lagos, how the original settlers -freed slaves from Sierra Leone - developed the city and their enduring contributions. We are treated to a short history of slavery but the gloom is lifted with a lovely Eyo dance.
Laitan and Rume’s relationship is not the only love story in ‘Saro’. We also see the budding romance between Azeez (Olumide Dada), leader of the group and Jane, the orphan who is their mentor’s office assistant. She initially has eyes only for Laitan but the persistent group leader eventually wins her heart.
There is also a hint of betrayal as Ronke, Johnson’s daughter, who helps the young men, felt that her father did not show her enough love, especially with the arrival of the quartet in their house.
The music of ‘Saro’ is a great advertisement for Nigerian music. No genre was exempted: Apala, Fuji, Juju, Afro Juju, Highlife, Afrobeat and Hip Hop were adequately represented with the scene reliving Fela and his Egypt ’80 Band in performance being the clincher. Uche Onah, who played the late Fela Anikulapo was spot on. The appreciative audience, of course, rewarded him with generous applause.
We were taken on a journey of music and treated to the timeless music of the likes of Haruna Isola, Bobby Benson, Rex Lawson, Onyeka Onwenu, Osita Osadebe, Ebenezer Obey, King Sunny Ade, Kwam I and Adewale Ayuba. We were similarly shown the future of Nigerian with the exploits of the current generation including P-Square, D’Banj, Olamide, Tiwa Savage and Davido.
There was also the opening glee and the glorious theme song including the fantastic chant in Yoruba by Mawuyon Ogun welcoming us to “Ile Saro, Ile Ominira” (The land of Saro, the land of freedom). Adding to the spectacle were the beautiful male and female dancers in their flowing, resplendent costumes. Their synchronised movement attested to the production’s excellent choreography; one of its strong points which didn’t escape the attention of the Culture Minister.
Another strong element of Saro was the top-notch costume and make-up. There were no less than 15 costume changes each reflecting the era being portrayed.
‘Saro’ is the real deal, an exciting return of grand musical productions last seen in the 60s and 70s. The only downside was the sound quality, which was poor on the first day. This, however, was due to the fact that the hall was meant for dinners and balls, not performances. It was rectified on the remaining two days.
Almost two hours after the doors opened, majority of us were on our feet, applauding the excellent production we had just seen. We were wowed.