By Anote Ajeluorou
After an explosive Christmas performance that rocked Lagos cultural circuit to the roots, asking for more would just as well be in place. This is the charge Bolanle Austin-Peters and crew must brace up to in the months to come. Saro the Musical in 2013 was cool, as it were, set particularly apart by the fixed stages it was performed at Oriental Hotel. There was no need to have to move the props and set up for another stage. It made for minimal time lag. However, the story seemingly dragged.
But by late last year, some of the excesses have been cut away. What remained was a lean and extremely precise story performed with equal precision. It delighted the audience to no end.
When the show opened on December 23, 2014 in its six-day long run, the first of such production in a long while, it seemed like a dream. By show time 7pm, Executive Producer, Austin-Peters, showed signs of nervousness. The seats inside Shell Hall, MUSON Centre, Onikan, were less than half filled. It was two days to Christmas, and as was customary with the city, a massive traffic gridlock held Lagosians to ransom on the roads. The city was on a traffic lockdown. It didn’t look as if going to see a play was the best way to spend the evening.
But Lagosians had been so teased, so cajoled and their appetite so whetted by the deluge of promotional messages on all media that staying away from such appetizing treat wasn’t an option either. By half the hour and in trickles, the audience began to take their seats. To kick off the show the seating arrangement was collapsed; no more VIP seats and the breath-taking musical journey started for four young boys on the adventure of their lives. It’s a journey that also showcased the lifestyles of Lagos in all its totality, a unique city that magnets all sorts of people to itself.
By the time the show was barely halfway, the hall had filled up to the number of arranged seats. Just about then, too, All Progressives Congress’ presidential candidate, Gen. Muhammadu Buhari (rtd), his campaign organization director and Rivers State governor, Rotimi Amaechi, APC’s governorship candidate for Kaduna State, Mallam Nasir El Rufai, Senator Olorunimbe Mamora and other APC bigwigs were ushered into the hall and seats brought upfront for them to sit. It caused a stir, as the General waved to mild applause from the audience. It turned out a major boost for the entire cast and crew. Austin-Peters couldn’t hide her excitement at the endorsement the surprise visit gave her pet project.
It was terra Kulture’s General Manager, Mr. Joseph Omoibom, who put the visit in cultural perspective, its implication for culture, especially coming from a man seeking elective office for the highest post in the land.
According to Omoibom, “Buhari’s visit wasn’t planned. He heard about the show and indicated interest to attend and he came. It was great to have him. It’s good for people in high places to support the arts. We actually wish we have more people in high places supporting the arts; it encourages the artists and producers to do more”.
On whether such gesture as the one Buhari demonstrated for Saro the Musical 2 wasn’t just a flash in the political pan that hardly transmute into serious artistic and cultural policy of government when such personages assumed office, Omoibom said that could only be seen when the time comes.
He, however, stressed, “At Terra Kulture and Saro the Musical, we’re just promoting the arts; we’re not partisan at all as the entire Nigeria’s artistic and cultural landscape is our constituency. Let those in high places do it for whatever reasons – political, economic, artistic, cultural or even selfish – what is important is that all Nigerians should support the arts. That is what is important to us in our promotion of the arts through our various projects like Saro the Musical”.
Although it wasn’t a political contest, the Peoples Democratic Party’s candidate for Lagos State, Mr. Jimi Agbaje, also showed up at one of Saro the Musical 2’s 11 performances. It all gave added colour to the premier show of the last part of the year.
However, the same question needs to be asked of Agbaje as governor. Would Agbaje as governor of Lagos State give impetus to cultural expressions by actively supporting them? Would Agbaje undertake to construct purpose-built cultural spaces for performances? Would he revive the moribund Lagos State Arts Council or as Mr. Ben Tomoloju charged, would he build theatres in each council area for the expression of creative talent? Would a fund be set aside for artists to access for production and get youths employed thereby?
These are questions all those seeking political offices must resolve, and quickly, too. With rapidly falling oil prices, a need to look elsewhere for economic salvation has become more expedient. Looking towards Abuja for revenue-sharing might soon be a thing of the past and all other avenues of economic growth must be explored. The arts and cultural sector offers a healthy alternative even while it has been grossly neglected over time.
…AND, for six long days Saro the Musical 2 seized Lagos by the jugular. It was unprecedented, with the last day and last show capping off a major cultural show. The Shell Hall could barely contain the audience, as additional seats were brought in to accommodate the huge audience. Even the walkways and close to the doors had seats. To cap it all, it was a terrific show and Lagosians loved it judging by the sheer numbers that attended.
As Austin-Peters summed up, live theatre has promise if only the right show can be offered Lagosians like Saro the Musical 2.
But after Saro the Musical 2, what next for the coming of age adventure musical showcasing four boys’ journey from the village to the city of Lagos to discover their destinies? Saro the Musical 3, of course! Although a show put up by Don Ceeto and his adopted four boys and his assistant, Jane, came off nicely, the journey need not stop there. Exploiting their musical career maximally should perhaps be the next stage to be explored. How did they fare after that remarkable debut performance? How did they fare in the continuing tutelage of Don Ceeto? Did they break off from his tutelage and go their own ways? What became the musical dynamics of the group?
Music director for Saro, Ayo Ajayi, has a chance here to set the hiphop pace he once boasted. He would need to dig deep into his musical mastery and really offer a way forward for Nigerian hiphop in setting a trend in a Saro the Musical 3 where the four boys make musical hits and we get to see their different lifestyles as independent artists away from Don Ceeto. That perhaps is one way of going about extending the Saro musical legacy and lifestyle of Austin-Peters’ imagining…