by Okon Ekpo
The end of the calendar year usually comes with it a rash of musicals staged to thrill the ravenous appetites of the Lagos arts scene. Last year had the opening of Bolanle Austen-Peters’ globetrotting Waka as well as the return of the audience fave, Kakadu. This year, Lufodo Productions, the content generating company and academy run by the husband and wife team of Olu Jacobs and Joke Silva are making a splash with Heartbeat, a musical which has its origins in Jesus House London.
With words and lyrics (comprising in its entirety of original recordings) written by Tosin Otudeko, this revival billed as ‘’A new beginning ‘’ is directed by Najita Dede, famous for her on screen work on the sitcom Ojos in D’ House.
Heartbeat The Musical which returned on Thursday 8, December at the Muson Centre, Onikan, is scheduled to run through 18, December. This after opening and running for ten days in November. At the end of this run, Heartbeat The Musical would have staged 28 performances across 19 days. Not bad considering not many people in country have heard of the musical’s source material prior to this production.
The biggest star on the billing as far as mainstream audiences are concerned has to be Femi Jacobs, who has appeared in successful films like The Meeting and Oko Ashewo: Taxi Driver. But be on the lookout for Evaezi Ogoro who has been in plays like The Mistress of Wholesome, and Akah Nani, a popular vlogger and actor on ELTV’s On The Real.
Heartbeat The Musical is the story of Grace House, a bustling shelter for homeless and underprivileged kids in a suburb of Lagos, as well as those of the people who inhabit the building. The play chronicles how a smattering of characters relate and are changed irrevocably by the centre. Eunice (Evaezi Ogoro) is the matriarch and administrative lead of Grace House. She inherited the property from her parents but is estranged from her sister, Grace (Theodora Onoapoi). This bit of backstory involving the sisters is captured in a striking bit of flashback that is very nicely played. Ogoro’s Eunice has found her calling in life and does her best to accommodate children who would otherwise have no chance at a decent life. But she has as her nemesis, JD Dacosta (William Benson) a manipulative politician with whom she shares some personal history.
Eunice and Grace have two offspring between them and Heartbeat The Musical is as much interested in them as it is in their parents. Especially for Arinola (Nengi Adoki), Grace’s only daughter. After some personal tragedy, Arinola moves in to Grace House and strikes up a fledgling romance with File (Akah Nnani), a rehabilitated street thug with a dark secret who has scored a new lease of life since his arrival at Grace House.
There are some moments of respite but good things never last and the conflicts that arise from the sprawling cast of characters that populate Heartbeat come to a head in a hilariously staged, yet thrilling finale that juggles different storylines all at once.
Stretching well over two hours, Heartbeat The Musical is a finely acted and entertaining piece of theatre that combines elements of storytelling, dramatic acting and a rich musical heritage that borrows from diverse influences. The song writing is pretty basic but Efosa Lawal’s musical direction brings some energy to the numbers that is complimented by the impressive choreography. Nothing stands out per se but it is all competently done and the energy with which the cast delivers is infectious.
The story is predictable and drags on with too many filler scenes that don’t necessarily advance the plot and the climax is a bit of a bore. But the ensemble cast is quite committed to the material and manage to squeeze out some moments of genuine delight, even in the midst of all that cheese. This is most evident in the central love story between Arinola and File. Though the actors are appealing, their story arc lays it on a bit too thick.
Sound and light management are satisfactory but the relaxed approach to the play’s climax is not quite as satisfying and the best pieces of Heartbeat come mostly in random bursts of colour. Still the entire play makes for solid viewing and perhaps with some disciplined tweaking, more can be achieved.