Darey Art-Alade’s Love Like a Movie concert has become a much expected spectacle on the Nigerian entertainment calendar. Vanessa Obioha was at its recent third edition which featured American diva, Ciara in a jaw-dropping show that highlighted elements of a total theatre production centred on his fifth studio album, ‘Naked’

Just when you thought you were familiar with all the stunts at Darey Art-Alade’s ‘Love Like a Movie’ show, he hits you with another spectacular display that leaves you stunned beyond recovery. He makes you wonder how he does it. Darey has been able to carve a niche which, by the way, is yet to face any competition thus far. He lives and controls a world that is exclusive to him.

He seems to have placed an unbreakable golden seal on LLAM that is immune to copy-cats. There is yet no visible attempt to replicate his show. We do not yet know if anyone is making an attempt to unlock Darey’s secret, since he appears to have a Midas touch.
What exactly stands Darey’s show out? Is it the theatrical themes or could it be the choice of international headline acts? No doubt, one factor would not account for the grip he has on Nigerians who love entertainment.

Albeit, Darey has proved overtime that he is also a great student who listens, not necessarily by his outstanding performances but by his uncanny ability to take criticisms of all shades with a humble heart.
He made a remarkable impression at his first edition in 2013 but suffered a backlash from fans over the dewy stage appearance of his headline act, Kim Kardashian. In 2014, he flew in Kelly Rowland who did better. But the show at the Oceanview grounds of Eko Hotels and Suites suffered technical glitch. Last year, the show didn’t hold due to the political tension that gripped the country, igniting a trail of fear.

This year, Darey turned the table around with an impressive comeback. He keeps rewriting the script, making adjustments to suit his unrivalled profile as an excellent showman. This time around, the show was centred on his fifth studio album, ‘Naked’.

While the concert retained some of its staples, there were visible tweaks that gave it phenomenal novelty.
Under the capable hands of his wife, Deola, and their event productions company, Livespot, LLAM 3 was a theatrical presentation dished out in orgasmic proportions. From the choreography to the stage design, it was a total spectre of theatre production.

Returning to the enclosing walls of the Eko Hotels and Suites Convention Centre, the stage design reeked of a Broadway production with its exquisite lighting, delicately designed to create moods in the hall. The extension of the stage into premium segment of the audience provided ample synergy between the performers and the audience. So much that audience members sometimes had the rare opportunity of a selfie with a performing act.

Jettisoning scaffolds and tanks for stage backdrop, Darey explored an Egyptian Pyramid theme with five perfectly-cut triangular screens placed in upward and downward positions. An exit and entrance door in the middle of the stage allowed performers to walk in and out of stage effortlessly. For most of the night, the triangular screens displayed visual effects and performances enhanced by the kaleidoscope of lights that beamed brightly on the performers. When the stage was dimmed, a galaxy of silver-sequined-shaped stars invaded the screens, redolent of a starry Arabian night.

The Italian Kitnob dancers who have been in this production from the beginning were not missing in action this year. Although they were not as copious as they were in previous editions, they still dazzled the audience with their trapeze acts and light shows. For example, one could hold his breath watching a trapeze artiste suspended mid-air performing magical stunts or marvel at the astounding display of pyrotechnics. A new fixture of this year’s event was the use of entertainment humanoid robots and lightsabers. The guests were given the lightsabers as mementos during the ‘Heal the World’ performance. They would later create a Star Wars effect after the performance by waving their lightsabers in unison.

The magic did not end inside the hall, a similar ambiance was created outside the venue. Sparkling at the roof of the entrance was the signage of ticket types. This instructed the guests on the type of tickets allowed in that section of the venue. Adorning the walls were promotional posters of the event complimented by the black carpet. Expectedly, the concert pooled the cream of the society who hit the venue with incredible glam force. However, the host and his headline act displayed sheer style in their outfits. Darey donned a blue jacket and black trousers while Ciara looked sinfully breath-taking in her see-through blouse tucked neatly in a black front-slit leather skirt.

In the lobby of the venue, it was a different game. Nigerian Breweries provided a make-shift bar which supplied an overflow of drinks to guests who networked and indulged in selfies and wefies.

Quite a few were aware of a photo exhibition which was an adjunct of the concert. Flying under the same title as his latest album, the exhibition was a collection of images from three well known photographers, Kelechi Amadi-Obi, Yetunde Babaeko and TY Bello. While TY Bello featured images of Darey, Kelechi explored the theme through the female anatomy. Using nude female models as subjects, he captured different tones and shades of the feminine curves in mesmerising sceneries. Babaeko however played with silhouettes. Using veils and silks, she teased her viewer with shots that were impressively imaginative. The exhibition was open for most part of the concert.

Any hope of Darey returning to precision time keeping applauded at his first show was doused as the ugly Nigerian time phenomenon reared its ugly head. However, he didn’t keep his guests waiting for many hours, just for an hour and a half. Five minutes to kick-off time, a Livespot personnel walked round the venue ringing a bell and shouting ‘Darey’s show starts in five minutes time’. It took a while before some of the guests caught in their conversations realised it was show time.

What most guests didn’t envisage as they hurried into the hall was the explosive events lined up. Of course, the main attraction was the American singer and Grammy award winner Ciara, but beyond her dancing prowess, LLAM 3 proved to be more than a show that featured just the international act.

From comedy to dance, audience members were in for a memorable night.
Unlike in previous editions, Darey did not open his show. Rather, Zaina, an artiste on his record label did. But by the time he graced the stage with his presence, the guests couldn’t help but revel in his magical vocal chords as he belted out all-time love songs from different genres.

For the next three and a half hours, Darey held his audience spellbound with intriguing performances. The business-like sequence which preceded each performance gave it an easy pass mark. There was no room for dilly-dallying. Everything was fast-paced, giving room for a seamless transition. As a performer was leaving the stage, another was waltzing in with the accompanying razzmatazz.

Deploying the narrative format, Darey took his audience on a journey of love. But it was not the familiar route of love between a man and a woman but love for humanity. This was enacted towards the end of the show when Michael Jackson’s ‘Heal the World’ was performed, followed by R.Kelly’s ‘Storm is Over’ before Darey performed his last bouquet of songs.

Speaking of the late pop legend Michael Jackson, the legend had probably smiled down at the DNMT dancers who re-enacted every step of his moves. Dressed in similar outfits of the singer, they moved, stepped, and dazzled the audience with their eclectic performances. Whistles, cheers and claps invaded the hall when they performed ‘Thriller’ without missing a beat.

Celebrity dancer Kaffy and her Imagento dancers also garnered their share of cheer. They too wowed the audience with their choreography which was comically entertaining.
Credence must be given to the choreographers who performed with the various artistes. Each move was a narrative on its own. It was not an ostentatious display of moves but a story-telling that justified the lyrics of the songs.

Also notable was the transformation of Darey’s costumes. For instance, during his love songs performance: ‘Delilah (Taxi Driver)’, ‘Love You Die’, which ended in a marriage treatise, it showcased brides in marriage costumes from major Nigerian ethnic groups like Bini, Efik, Yoruba and Igbo. He also paid tribute to African women. He was soon joined by Olamide and performed ‘Asiko Laiye’ remix. He would later leave the stage for the YBNL boss to perform his self-penned song, ‘Melo Melo’.

Again, Darey left jaws on the floor when he performed with a stripper on the pole.
Before Ciara graced the stage, Sound Sultan, Ruby Gyang, Sammy gave the audience thrilling performances.
The moment everyone was waiting for finally came when Ciara waltzed into the stage with her dancers in an all-white ensemble.

While the promotional materials of the event teased the public on what to expect, it didn’t convince the doubting Thomases. There were fears (following from Kim Kardashian’s cameo-like appearance) that Ciara may hardly exceed her predecessor’s duration on stage, even worse was the remote thought about whether she would entertain or not. But the artiste proved them wrong by lasting more than five-minutes. From her scintillating steps to her sultry voice, Ciara exuded love, sex and magic on stage. But beyond her longevity on stage, what endeared her to the crowd was her ability to connect with the audience.

She was unafraid to walk into the audience, singing her favourite songs to the happy faces that beamed smiles at her, nothing could stop the energetic dancer. By the end of her performance, many passed a good commentary. Many thought it would be her last time on stage as comedian Kenny Blaq took the night a notch higher with his brilliant music-comedy. He was in fact the revelation of the night and a big highlight of the event. Blaq’s segment which was complemented by a company of clowns was one of the most applauded and rewarding features of the night.
Darey, Zaina, Yemi Alade, Simi, Adekunle Gold, Sound Sultan performed a medley of songs after the comical relief.

Without a warning, Ciara came back on stage, still looking radiant in her matching white crop-top and half-worn overalls that created the illusion of jeans with frills. This time, she performed her latest tracks including ‘I Bet’ which got many swooning their heads in chorus. Her list also included Ginuwine’s ‘Ride my Pony’, and the all time Gloria Gaynor’s hit ‘I Will Survive’. In total, she spent an average of 40 minutes on stage, way higher than all her predecessors put together.

But that was not all Ciara had in store for the audience. She humbly thanked Darey and the audience for hosting her but showed a genuine interest in learning some of the local dance moves. Within minutes, she had Kaffy on stage teaching her how to dance Iyanya’s ‘Kukere’ dance, Tekno’s ‘Duro’ and Olamide ‘Shakitibobo’.
The dance session with Kaffy must have been rehearsed. However, the seeming spontaneity still caught the attention of the audience and was definitely one of the most applauded sessions. The way Ciara suspended her feet as she imitated the popular Shakitibobo dance move showed true artistic ingenuity. With a ‘I love you Lagos’ she took a bow. Yet, Ciara was not done. She humbly came back for the final bow after the show with Darey and other artistes. When Darey teased her about her audience engagement in pidgin, she replied ‘I dey Lagos’ in a funny American accent.

One thing is certain, that Ciara is a true performer who goes beyond her stage performance to connect with her host country. The next day would see her visiting some community schools and accepting a portrait made for her by a young doting fan.

But what’s more, it proved that Darey finally listened to critics who expect his headline acts to exceed their less-than-a-minute presence on stage.

While some part of the crowd dispersed after Ciara’s performance, many stayed back to enjoy the nostalgic performances by Blackky, Stylplus, Jazzman Olofin and Weird MC who likewise got the crowd screaming for more. Darey closed the show with rendition of his songs ‘Pray for me’, ‘I Go Make Am’ and ‘Champion’. These last performances were characterised by theatrics. For example, heavy stomping and deafening chants characterised the ‘Champion’ performance. In the middle of his performance, he was arrayed in a royal golden robe with a crown befitting a king, then lifted high in the air by his dancers. The stage dimmed immediately after the act only to be invaded by a display of fireworks, with the dancers waving their lightsabers.

As much as the show lived beyond expectations, it was prone to some mishaps. Vector the rapper made a blunder when he repeatedly paid tribute to the living Pete Edochie instead of Pete Eneh in his rap tribute to entertainers who have passed on in the industry.

Other artistes who refused to make a good impression included Olamide, Zaina and Blackky.
Arguably, Darey is still the number one show-stopper. And while he is yet to get his ROI, he undoubtedly has earned a place in the stars.