Not many of us would have the courage to even imagine writing a musical – but not Aga Serugo Lugo. The third year music student has spent the last year and a half writing and composing the production Celebrity which took over the Drama Barn in Week 8. Even before the opening night the play was set to be a massive success with all performances rapidly selling out and over thirty people turning up to see the dress rehearsal. It did not disappoint.
In a world where celebrity status can be attained with terrifying ease, Aga’s play offers a dark insight into the temptations of fame. The play is set in the modern day frenzy of fast-track success and tells the story of Peter Lee, an ambitious young singer/’songwriter’, played by Omar Shahryar, and his rise and subsequent fall from stardom. Peter’s life, originally filled with the luxurious delights of celebrity, deteriorates into a world of unmediated decadence as not only does he end up fathering a child with one of his fans, but he causes the death of his mother from a drug overdose. Despite his huge commercial success and obnoxious precocity, the part of Peter is not a singing role and he spoke only a few words throughout the play which helped to emphasise the suffocating nature of the world of celebrity.
Narrated from the perspective of Richard, Peter’s brother, who was played by a contemplative Clare Shucksmith, the savage effects of sex, drugs, and rock and roll on the life of the individual and his family are presented with a bitter hindsight. When attempting to summarize the plot in a question and answer session after the performance, Aga described it as an exploration of ‘action and consequence’. He admitted that although some of the characters may have appeared stereotyped, it was their actions that defined their roles in the story and resulted in the death of Peter’s mother, ‘sweet Audrey Lee’.
A musical would be nothing without the music and Aga’s score was remarkable in its variety and complexity. Walking into the drama barn, the audience were treated to the sultry sounds of a jazz band, made up of a fair few of the White Piano of Vanbrugh Jazz fame. Aga admitted much of what the audience heard was improvised and he paid tribute to the talent of his fellow musicians. With music ranging from upbeat jazz, modal and almost folk-like lyrical songs, and even a barber shop trio there was plenty of diversity.
Most impressive however were the intricately orchestrated harmonies of the chorus, who not only provided a key narratorial role but contributed a rich layer of backing to the play’s many memorable songs. With lines such as ‘I could be the most expensive shag you’ve ever had’, and ‘I’ve resigned myself to this cup of tea’, some of the lyrics seemed a bit forced, however songs such as ‘The debilitating life of the fan’ featuring an excellent performance by Fiona Cooper, were energetic and rhythmically original.
With even the set changes organised into photographic snapshot poses of questionable salubrity, there was not a moment of the performance that was ill-considered. It also showed off the skills of the choreographer Frances Whittaker, whose routines filled the drama barn with their farcical portrayal of the frenetic world of celebrity. Aga was quick to praise Frances, professing he would not have attempted writing songs which required such ambitious dance routines if he did not have confidence in her ability.
Aga claimed that upon coming to university he had aimed to start both a jazz band and to write a play and thus he combined the two to create Celebrity. It was once he had conceived the plot and had begun to write the music that he started to entertain the possibility of staging the final outcome. Asked about the prospect of taking the production elsewhere, Aga was coy as to the direction further performances might take, but with such an enthusiastic response from the audience and a soundtrack already in production, it would be a shame if the play went no further than the drama barn. Not only did Celebrity give Aga a chance to premier his work, but it included outstanding performances from all involved and was a real showcase of the university’s talent. When asked whether the musical was all he had hoped it would be, Aga replied it had turned out ‘better than I had ever imagined.’