By Anote Ajeluorou
MAY your Lagos story be sweet like that of Saro Boys! Ameeen!! That may well be the Christmas prayer of many (as the year winds down to reveal yet another) who saw the coming-of-age, rages-to-riches story of four starry-eyed young men who left their rustic Kutuyenji upcountry village in search of better livelihood in the proverbial golden city nestling by the lagoon, Lagos. Olaitan (Nonso Bassey), Efe (Uche Chika Elumelu), Obaro (Emeka Nwagbaraocha), and Azeez (Gideon Okeke) came, suffered but triumphed and became superstars in their chosen career as musicians. But just like most Lagosians would tell you: it is not always easy, not for you, not for the four boys either. Lagos happened to them, as it does to many, but with perseverance and hardwork, as their mentor and sponsor always drummed it in into their heads, they triumphed after their rough talents were passed through the crucible to emerge shinning diamonds. That’s the story of Saro the Musical told to twice to packed audiences at Terra Kulture Theatre Arena in Lagos on the first night!
Director of the musical theatre Bolanle Austen-Peters acknowledged the roughness of the diamond she had to hew onto stage, as she cast about for a story to tell 10 years ago. She just wanted to tell a Lagos that resonates, she told her audience after the 3pm show last Thursday afternoon, December 22, 2023, the first of over 12 shows scheduled for the Christmas holidays, with stage performances continuing today through till January 2, 2-024. And indeed the story, its stagecraft as encapsulated in the drama, dance, choreography and music, captivated the packed audience, with many yearning for more even after they saw it 10 years ago when it first premiered. Such staying power of a piece of drama is a testament of its resilience and how deeply felt its emotive power to still tug at hearts 10 years after.
The Saro Boys strutting their music stuff
Sitting snugly beside the rags-to-riches story is also the love story between Olaitan and Oghenerume -Rume for short (Oluchi Odii). The two rural lovebirds are inseparable. But Olaitan is a member of the gang of four rustic musicians who want a better life that Kutuyenji, like most rural Nigerian communities, cannot fetch their bursting ambition to hit it big in music. As they decide to leave for Lagos on the wings of mere ambition and luck, Olaitan and Rume are overwhelmed by the enormity of separation. Meanwhile, Rume’s father (Yemi Shodimu) is bent on marrying off Rume to the son of a wealthy neighbour. How does Rume and Olaitan’s love fare in the face of such brutal challenge? How would Rume escape the forceful marriage that stares her in the face? How does love survive in such circumstances and thrive? What option is left for Rume and Olaitan to explore to keep their love intact? And when the four eventually get to the city and their music career begins to blossom, Azeez and Efe are also caught in the throes of love tangles with unlikely characters, one with the music boss Don C’s (Bimbo Manuel) assistant Jane and the other with the daughter of the boss herself, who would spare nothing to get Efe.
Musical theatre is nothing without the music and its ability to oscillate among the different scenes. Ayodeji Aremu’s music directorial acumen is top-notch, and as Austen-Peters herself acknowledged, the musicians worked out the notes to the last details, to perfection. It’s a flawless band of musicians who thrilled the audience with interpretive pieces of music that punctuated the drama sequences. What is more, in the 10-year interval between its premiere and now, Saro‘s music has seen an upgrade accordingly to accommodate new tempo on the Nigerian music shelf. While some pieces still remain like Lagbaja’s ‘Never far Away’ sung by Ego, which Rume and Olaitan sing to remind themselves of their inseparability, much else has changed to reflect newer music temper, such that Rema’s ‘Calm Down’ and many others have come to heighten the tempo of Saro’s music performance anchorage.
The lovebirds Olaitan (Nonso Bassey) and ‘Rume (Oluchi Odii) before the separation
And in choreography department, Justin Ezirim’s touch has also inched up 10 years since 2014 when Saro first made its appearance. Ezirim’s choreography in each scene is a testament to the overall director’s quest for excellence in her project. So too are costuming and lighting so apt in depicting and delineating scene after scene to the overall performance of a musical theatre that will remain timeless in its thematic and dramatic accomplishments.
And as audiences troop out to watch Saro the Musical at Terra Kulture Theatre Arena throughout the festive season, may Saro, the Lagos story, happen to all!