Saro the Musical: Conjuring up Lagos in London
Bringing a 70-strong cast and crew from Lagos to London and putting on a spectacular show is no mean feat; doing it twice is the testament to Bolanle Austen-Peters’ grit and determination. Following on from her 2016 Wakaa! The Musical offering, Austen-Peters returned to the Shaw Theatre last week with another crowd-pleaser, Saro the Musical.
With a mesmerising choreography, acrobatic stunts, an original score, a solid script re-written by none other than Tunde Babalola, and the masterful selection of both seasoned and emerging acting talent, Saro the Musical is a spectacular show, and a grand showcase of Nigerian culture for an international audience.
Much like Wakaa! from the same stable, Saro does the rags to riches story really well, following the fortunes of four talented young men from the villages who want to ‘blow’ in the big city – Azeez (Gideon Okeke), the leader, Laitan (Patrick Diabuah), the thinker; Obaro (Paul Ifeanyi Alumona), the dreamer; and Efe (Paolo Sisiano), the charmer leave their multi-ethnic village for Lagos and its ‘streets lined with gold.’
It is not hard to root for the boys, especially as Azeez finds chemistry with Aunty ‘Just Jane’ beautifully brought to life by Ade Laoye who mesmerises with both her acting and her singing range and Efe pursued by the persistent Lagos babe Ronke (Oshuwe Tunde-Imoyo). It is no doubt that, the fab four, once they build up their stage and film portfolio will give Nollywood veterans a run for their money – so delightful their acting.
Staying behind in the village, with her disapproving father (Kunle Afolayan) the threat of being married to the Chief’s son hanging over her is Rume (Kaline Akinkugbe). Akinkugbe is the major revelation of the show, with her solid acting and sensational voice, alongside the great chemistry between her and Diabuah. He is once again – much like Wakaa! – the serious-minded young man, loyal to his love, conscientious to a fault and the voice of reason among his peers.
The first song, a Yoruba ballad, ‘Ma gbagbe mi’ delivered on a moonlit stage sets the bar high for the rest of the show; fortunately, Saro is the gift that keeps on giving. Ranging from the 70s High Life and Afrobeat to the contemporary Afrobeats, from Igbo and Yoruba gospel songs to Eyo masquerade songs, the wide musical selection directed by Ayo Ajayi is sure to delight Nigerians of every generation. There are songs your mum will sing along to as well as those that will make your teenage kid head-bopping.
Once in Lagos, the boys find not all glitters is gold and ‘blowing’ will take more than just luck. Fresh off the boat in Yaba, they are mugged by area boys and end up in prison along with the robbers following an altercation. For a minute it seems, their dreams of stardom will end badly, until Don Ceeto (Bimbo Manuel) steps in, who is all swag, style and smooth talk.
The veteran actor is a masterclass is acting as he struts and swaggers across the stage, suitably blinged up as Lagosian music producer, drawling ‘You dig’ which by the end of the show we can’t help but chorus back at him as the audience. Yet there is as much substance as swagger when Don Ceeto takes the boys to Badagry and we are given a whistle-stop tour of the city’s darker past as a slave port.
One can’t help but feel, however, that this scene was engineered to pack meatier material into what’s otherwise two hours of light entertainment. With Babalola’s expertise in entertaining social commentary – the greatest example of which has to be the 2012 cinematic offering The Meeting by Audrey Silva Company – could Saro have given us a little more substance and a little less stardust?
Don Ceeto takes the boys home, scrubs them up and sets them on the journey to stardom. But not before getting a little help from the divalicious Derry Black in the shapely shape of Lami Phillips, another revelation. The Afro Soul singer turned theatre actor, Phillips dazzles as Derry Black, the etiquette and voice coach who is tasked with turning vulgar village boys in sleek superstars. Equally dazzling is Phillips’s costumes by Ituen Basi and Odeva. In fact, the costume design makes up much of the magic alongside the music and the masterful choreography by Justin Ezirim.
Saro takes us on a two-hour journey from the village to the city, where Austen-Peters succeeds in suspending disbelief so much so that, right on the stage of Shaw Theatre in London, she conjures up the chaos of Yaba bus terminal, the razzmatazz of an Island night club, the magic of the Eyo masquerade. This is perhaps the key to her success, Bolanle Austen-Peters, affectionately called BAP by cast and crew, just knows how to bring Lagos to life on stage even if the stage is set in London. Hence, when she announces at the end of the play, she will be back in London in July 2018 with Fela and the Kalakuta Queens, you just know July can’t come soon enough.