The energy ignites the stage even before the show officially begins. The pulsation of the bass and rhythm guitars, the punctuation of those African beats, and the piercing exclamations of the horns set the atmosphere for a bevy of dancing beauties scantily clad in a chorus of movements that gyrate, giggle and prance in an organized hustle onto the stage for an African party that takes place before your eyes; and the main attraction is Fela!
The real life story of African superstar Fela Anikulapo-Kuti is the foundation for the musical Fela! The starring role is portrayed with singing, dancing & musicianship that is so expertly executed by Sahr Ngaujah, that one might think they are watching the actual Fela himself. Ngaujah is a multi-dimensional performer who entrances the audience with the history of Fela’s musical, political and interpersonal journey. As Fela’s world is shaped by the evolving influences of the music world outside of Nigeria, he brings the soul of America, the eclectic scope of European music and the angst of the oppression of his native land to an after-hours joint in Lagos, called The Shrine. It is command central for Fela’s flamboyant and defiant nature and the birth a revolution.
The history in the musical Fela! is bold and exciting. The chapters move and thrust, and engage the audience as involuntary patrons in The Shrine. Outstanding performance credit must also be given to Melanie Marshall, who played Fela’s mother and Paulette Ivory, who played Sandra, Fela’s love interest. Both women demonstrated exquisite dramatic and vocal ability. Exceptional notice must also be given to director and choreographer Bill T. Jones, co-creator Jim Lewis and author Carlos Moore, whose book inspired the musical. Every bow by every on stage performer is worthy of the inevitable standing ovation that follows each provocative performance. Of course there is a battery of people behind the scenes who make up the team surrounding Fela. No department is withheld from receiving commendation.
The Broadway production of Fela! was produced by Shawn “Jay-Z” Carter, Will Smith, Jada Pinkett Smith, Ruth & Stephen Hendel, Roy Gabay, Sony Pictures Entertainment, Edward Tyler Nahem, Slava Smolokowski, Chip Meyrelles, Ken Greiner, Douglas G. Smith, Steve Semlitz, Cathy Glaser, Daryl Roth, True Love Productions, Susan Deitz, M. Swinsky, J. Deitch, Knitting Factory Entertainment and Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson.
The Center Theatre Group (L. A.’s Theatre Company) and The National Theatre of Great Britain are hosts for Fela!’s Los Angeles run which continues through January 22, 2012 at The Ahmanson Theatre. Tickets are available now by calling CTG Audience Services at (213) 972-4400, or online at www.CenterTheatreGroup.org/Fela. For groups, please call (213) 972-7231, and for the deaf community, the information and charge number is TDD (213) 680-4017. Tickets are also available at the box office at 135 N. Grand Avenue, Los Angeles, Ca. 90012 (Call for box office hours.)