Funke Olaode in London

After thrilling Nigerian audiences through its electrifying stage theatre performance in Lagos and across the country, Nigerian entertainment industry got international boost this weekend in London, when it staged Nigeria’s Biggest Broadway Theater, ‘Saro the Musical,’ to the London audience at the Shaw Theatre, West End, London.

Determined to revolutionise the Nigerian art and creative industry, frontline culture production company, Bolanle Austen-Peters Productions (BAP), in collaboration with the MTN Foundation brought London to a standstill with the stage play, which kicked off on Thursday August 24 and would run through Tuesday August 29.

Led by three Nigerian renowned actors, Bimbo Manuel, Kunle Afolayan and Gideon Okeke, the highly anticipated award-winning Nigerian musical play premiered to a rapturous audience saw Lagos crowd and their Diaspora counterparts turned out in large number, donning various traditional attires to support one of their own.

Set in modern Lagos, ‘Saro’ is a celebration of migrants to the economic hub from other parts of Nigeria, with a focus on four talented young men who face a series of challenges as they chase better fortunes in the ‘city of dreams.’

Boasting over 70 cast performing on a one-of-its-kind custom-built stage, Saro traces and pays homage to Nigeria’s rich musical history by beautifully rendering some of the country’s greatest hits over the years, while it also delivered its own ingeniously composed original music.

Dressed in lovely, colourful costumes that showcased the best of Nigerian fashion, the cast and crew provided a thrilling spectacle, giving life to the musical with well-choreographed dance steps and songs which incorporated a mesmerising fusion of African and Western sounds such as Afro-beat, Highlife, Juju, Apala, hip-hop and jazz. The show closed to a standing ovation and delighted calls for an encore.

The play drew many notable Nigerians among whom were Chairperson, First Bank, Nigeria Plc., Mrs. Ibukun Awosika, Managing Director, Standard Chartered Bank, Mrs. Bola Adesola, Managing Director, NLNG, Mr. Tony Attah, First Minister, Nigerian High Commission in London, Mrs. Olufolakemi Abudurasaq, directors, MTN Foundation, Mrs. Aishatu Sadauki and Hon. Reginald Chukwuemeka Okeya, Mr. Tobe Okigbo, Mrs. Yewande Zaccheaus, Mrs. Nimi Akinkugbe, Mrs. Ekua Abudu, Mr. Toyin Subair amongst others.

For MTN, supporting the indigenous production is part of the Foundation’s strategy of facilitating the renaissance of Arts and Culture in Nigeria, exporting local productions of international standards. The company said that was why it partnered Bolanle Austen-Peters of BAP Productions and Terra Kulture to bring ‘Saro the musical’, a stage play to audience in the United Kingdom because it’s very rich in promoting Nigerian culture, music, and the arts.

Basking in the euphoria of a successful outing, Corporate Relations Executive of MTN, Tobe Okigbo, said MTN as a Nigeria company was desirous of promoting Nigerian culture essentially.

“If you look at what Saro, Waka and Kakadu is doing to the Nigerian image internationally, it is impressive. If you look at acting and Nollywood generally in terms of its ingenuity, the strength, promoting Nigerian arts and culture positively is applauding. This is not about ‘Nigeria is the most corrupt country or insurgency.’

“Wakaa! The Musical was the first Nigerian musical to ever grace the stage of the major theatre district after thrilling Nigerians at home. This is saying ‘this is who we are and that beyond what you hear about the country, Nigeria is rich in culture and this is what we are showcasing. As a Nigerian brand MTN is saying this is who we are,” Okigbo said

Excited to break another new ground, the executive producer and director, ‘Saro, the Musical,’ Austen-Peters, expressed confidence that audiences in the UK, Nigeria and across the world would continue to enjoy a fantastic time.

“Our experience clearly shows that Nigerian stories resonate. People want to see and hear tales about our beautiful culture. For a long time, our stories were told by others. Now, with productions like ‘Saro’, The Musical – written and produced by us and executed by a 70 member cast and crew; we are taking ownership and telling our own stories in a way that only we can.’

Speaking on the renaissance that the art and culture industry in Nigeria is experiencing, Austen-Peters noted that her company is playing a great role in preserving and exporting Nigeria’s rich culture, “The unique mix of old and young acting talents and the deliberate effort and commitment of the entire team translates to this success story and we hope to achieve even greater feats,” she said.

Lauding the initiative as a venture worthy of support, executive secretary MTN Foundation, Nonny Ugboma, noted that “Nigeria is witnessing a revival of sorts in the quality and popularity of theatre and we are honoured to be part of this renaissance. We successfully partnered with BAP productions on the premieres of two musicals – ‘Waka and ‘Kakaadu’, which premiered in Lagos, London and Johannesburg. We look forward to a successful run with ‘Saro’

Speaking further, Ugboma said “The MTN Foundation is proud to be a part of this revolution. We have a growing number of talents in the arts and culture sector and we believe that these ones can make a profound impact. The renaissance going on is remarkable and the foundation feels a great need to throw its weight behind it. We were part of Wakaa! the ‘cheeky sibling’ of ‘Saro.’ Now, we are confident that ‘Saro’ will do more. It is our wish that many more theatre productions come up in Nigeria to take the art and culture industry to enviable heights, and with the likes of Bolanle Austen-Peters Productions, that wish is fast becoming a reality. MTN will continuously looking for opportunities. If there are other quality productions that demand the foundation’s support we would throw our weight behind them. What we are doing is to revive stage play, promote arts and culture and Nigerian artistes,” she concluded.

While commenting on this laudable project, veteran actor and movie producer, Kunle Afolayan, who is part of the cast of ‘Saro’ said “I have done stage in the past, but having been behind the camera in the past few years, this outing was very refreshing for me and because of the best of world class stage production as is typical of Bolanle Austen-Peters.”