MOREMI: SHARING THE MESSAGE OF SACRIFICE

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Months after its successful run last December, Moremi the Musical ups the ante in a spectacular return to the Terra Kulture Arena stage, Okechukwu Uwaezuoke reports

Curiously, the Moremi legend resonates with the ecclesiastical notions of the Easter season. Is it not a season the faithful strangely glosses over an obvious travesty of justice, preferring instead to see it as a divine sacrifice? Perhaps, it is a mere coincidence that the musical, which romanticises the 12th century Ile-Ife queen, returned to the Terra Kulture Arena on April 18, just in time for an uninterrupted Easter weekend run.

The treat, which continued this weekend, is expected to subsequently spill over into the next public holiday and weekend to conclude on May 5.
Like most legends, this awe-inspiring tale of womanly dignity and courage is replete with its own fair share of heart-breaks. No doubt, the memories of its successful last December outing at this Victoria Island, Lagos-based 400-seater performance space remains fresh in many aficionados’ memories. Indeed, as the latest production of the Bolanle Austen-Peters Production (a.k.a. BAP), Moremi the Musical is a stunner just like the legendary figure on which it is based is believed to be. It chimes with the standards of the Lagos-based playhouse, whose track record flaunts such first-rate productions as Saro the Musical, Wakaa the Musical, Fela & the Kalakuta Queens, 93 Days movie, Full Circle, Rhythm of the Times, Lagos Style and Music of Africa, among others.
For this musical, the Nigerian theatre amazon, Mrs Austen-Peters, as the director, had collaborated with Princess Ronke Ademiluyi, who created the storyline, and the wife of the Ogun State governor, Chief Olufunsho Amosun, who is the executive producer.

Though not quite another Jeanne D’Arc story with an African setting, culture buffs revel in the fact that the historical female figure also sacrificed for her people. It is one reason why many in the audience at the production’s last Monday’s matinee session would have anticipated the opening scene with bated breath.
A male voice over wrenches the audience back to the present. This is after a lengthy instrumental musical prelude. Then, a solo female crooner dramatically introduces Moremi (Tosin Adeyemi). Now, the show has begun…

From the fogginess of the neatly choreographed dances, songs and dialogues, the storyline gradually resolves itself into some form of coherence. A people, the ancient people of Ile-Ife, are under a siege, the viewer gathers. They are terrorised by a war-like neighbouring tribe, known as the Igbo who are said to be no relations to the present-day Igbo ethnic group.

Turned into bogeymen by their apparent invincibility and their ferocious masks, the rampaging Igbo warriors ride roughshod over their helpless victims. Unease reigns over the land and even the Ife monarch, the Ooni Obawinrin (Bimbo Manuel), admits how hopeless the situation has become, as he represents each of his subjects captured or killed with carved images. He refuses to be heartened by the encouraging words of Moremi, into whose intimate home the audience has been permitted a quite revealing glimpse.

It is obvious that the monarch has run out of ideas. For the hunters, sent into the forest at the behest of the Ifa oracle on a mission to capture a live elephant, a live tiger (who has really seen a live tiger anywhere in Africa?) and a live leopard, have returned empty-handed to the consternation of the people.

Enter Moremi to the rescue. The dramatic highpoint, which italicises her sacrifice, revolves around her willingness to leave her comfort zone for the common good. Indeed, there is something heart-rending about her having to leave a husband, who never seems to have enough of her, and her son, Ela Oluorogbo (Moshood Fattah), for whom she seems ready give her own life.

Seeking the help of the river goddess Esinmirin (Kemi Lala Akindoju), she learns later, comes at a price. She is promised the help she requested for on the condition that she would make a sacrifice on her return. Thus, the legendary heroine of the Yoruba race turns herself into a Trojan horse when she lets herself be captured by Igbo warriors.

One thing leads to another and she eventually ends up becoming the consort of the king of the Igbo, Olu-Igbo (Femi Branch), a position that stands her in good stead to discover the secrets of the invading warriors.

Her escape and triumphant return to Ile-Ife coincides with the time of the recall of Oranmiyan (Rotimi Adelegan) from Benin after the former Ooni’s death. With the return of peace soon to the besieged people, the time to thank the river goddess for her help has come. The river goddess demands that Moremi sacrifices her only son. Not even her pleas and lamentations fazes the deity, who remains adamant.

The impasse is soon resolved when Ela Oluorogbo willingly accepts to be sacrificed and rebukes his mother for grieving.
Even so, Moremi’s sudden self-possessed acceptance of her fate so soon after her pathos-inducing wails is confounding. Seamlessly stepping into her new supra-human status seems rather hyperbolised.

As for the production, it hopes to elicit the interest of the younger generation in their culture and tradition. It also projects the Yoruba legendary heroine as the precursor of modern-day feminism.
Yet, it seems to be drawn between the adherence to the canons of Broadway-style musicals and the effort to achieve a historical Vraisemblance. Could that why some of the dialogues, which could easily have been sung in Yoruba, were rendered in English? Wouldn’t spoken dialogues in English alone have sufficed to help the audience understand the storyline?

Granted, Moremi the Musical targets a global audience. This, nonetheless, does not excuse some of its needless concessions to the whims of modernity – as evidenced by the use of modern music instruments and rendition of songs in English – which dilutes its aesthetic integrity. Also, a few of the dialogues in the musical are spiced with double entendres, which are obviously insensitive – if not indifferent – to the presence of minors in the audience.