Afrobeat music drives Broadway’s new 'Fela!' | Movies | NewJerseyNewsroom.com -- Your State. Your News.

newjerseynewsroom.com

Thursday
Jul 31st
  • Login
  • Create an account
    Registration
    *
    *
    *
    *
    *
    REGISTER_REQUIRED
  • Search
  • Local Business Deals

Afrobeat music drives Broadway’s new 'Fela!'

Fela2112309_optSongs by rebel musician Fela Anikulapo-Kuti tune up a wild bio-show

BY MICHAEL SOMMERS
NEWJERSEYNEWSROOM.COM
BROADWAY REVIEW

Broadway has never before witnessed a musical quite like "Fela!" — an explosive mix of catchy Afrobeat rhythms, wild, sexy dancing and raw bio-dramatics — and while its unique charms certainly are powerful, one frankly wonders whether this unusual show will catch on with the mainstream public.

Still, anyone really and truly serious about experiencing something "different" than Broadway's musical norm should hurry over to the Eugene O'Neill Theatre, where "Fela!" opened Monday night.

The story's environment spills over into the auditorium, which is strung with Christmas lights and decked out with African masks, splashed in shades of green and fuchsia, and plastered with political slogans. On one side, a runway links the auditorium to a two-tier stage environment rudely backed by corrugated metal and housing a 10-member band. Moving lights restlessly cast their shafts into spectators' eyes.

Production designer Maria Draghici creates the Nigerian nightclub where African songwriter and political rebel Fela Anikulapo-Kuti gathers his followers for a last-night party before he quits his country in 1978.

Haunted by the recent murder of his mother and persecuted by military thugs, the charismatic, blunt-smoking, multi-polygamous Fela tells us about his hypnotic Afrobeat music-making as it evolved and traces his turbulent times at home and abroad.

Fela1112309_optVideo, frenzied dancing, fantasy sequences, freaky visuals and plenty of Fela's own raucous songs intermingle in the episodic narrative devised by Jim Lewis and Bill T. Jones to illuminate a singular life.

This tumultuous production staged and choreographed by Jones conjures up a vivid impression of a runaway country and an outlaw musician who tried to make sense of it. The non-traditional nature of this musical's format and score certainly reflects Fela's revolutionary ways.

For all of such artful chaos churning onstage, the story is relatively easy to follow thanks to occasionally projected supertitles and a fierce, transfixing performance by Sahr Ngaujah as Fela. (The role is so demanding that Kevin Mambo plays three out of eight weekly performances.)

Backed by that rowdy band, a 20-member ensemble shakes their rumps and the rafters as they madly perform amid the sweaty atmospherics of Jones' production. Garbed and treated like a goddess, Lillias White provides a mighty voice and an impressive presence as Fela's ill-fated activist mama.

The show will prove a stretch for conservative Broadway tastes, but anybody desiring something more adventurous than the same old musical stuff should check out "Fela!"

"Fela!" continues an open-end run at the Eugene O'Neill Theatre, 230 W. 49th St., New York. Call (212) 239-6200 or visit www.felaonbroadway.com.

ALSO BY MICHAEL SOMMERS

Okay ‘Dreamgirls' visits the Apollo Theater

New Broadway comedy explores Victorian sex lives

Radio City Music Hall's ‘Spectacular' inaugurates holidays

‘Brother/Sister' trilogy illuminates African-American lives

‘Wintuk' returns to Madison Square Garden for holidays

‘Ragtime' stirs up America's 1900s melting pot

A dark new drama dreams up a dystopian future in ‘What Once We Felt'

Show biz egos collide in ‘The Understudy'

Lynn Redgrave takes flight as a solitary ‘Nightingale'

‘Finian's Rainbow' glows with a colorful score and story

The Big Apple Circus presents a wonderfully (Bello) Nock-about time

Neil Simon's beguiling ‘Brighton Beach Memoirs' unfolds once more on Broadway

Sienna Miller makes her Broadway debut in a sexy Strindberg classic

‘Memphis' sings and dances along the 1950s racial divide

‘Bye Bye Birdie' doesn't fly high with Gina Gershon and John Stamos

Mamet's ‘Oleanna' stars Bill Pullman and Julia Stiles

Expect a ‘Royal' good time

A ‘Hamlet' who knows what he's doing

‘Wishful Drinking' proves a bit hard to swallow

Flavorful acting sells ‘Superior Donuts'

Stars brighten a dark cop drama in ‘A Steady Rain'

JOIN US AT NEWJERSEYNEWSROOM.COM:

IN OUR NEWSROOM

ON FACEBOOK

ON TWITTER

 

Add your comment

Your name:
Subject:
Comment:

Follow/join us

Twitter: njnewsroom Linked In Group: 2483509