The colorful and exuberant musical FELA! made its way to Philadelphia last night, premiering to a packed Academy of Music. Arguably one of the most anticipated plays of the Kimmel Center's Broadway season, FELA! showed and proved, with a hand clapping, soul stirring musical tale of--African singer--Fela Kuti's life.
Born in Nigeria, Fela Kuti created a type of music called Afrobeat--a blend of jazz, funk and African rhythm and harmonies. The famous singer was known for his political subject matter, radical delivery, and his love of pot and women. Born to accomplished parents and with accomplished siblings, a young Fela decided that music was what he wanted to do and, that's exactly what he did, thus changing the course of Nigerian history.
Directed by Bill T Jones, the Tony Award winning play features Sahr Ngauhjah as Fela; Melanie Marshall as Fela's mother Funmilayo; and Paulette Ivory as Sandra--one of Fela's many lovers. Neatly framed, and set in Fela's Shrine, the play takes place shortly after the death of Fela's elderly mother; a brutal death instigated by the hands of Nigerian soldiers.
A time when Fela was boiling over with hatred towards the Nigerian government, the play is filled with angst and bravado, as Ngauhjah gingerly tells the story of Fela's life.
Parallel to the play's heaviness, FELA! is peppered with hits like "Upside Down" and "Zombie", and charged by the hypnotizing movements of the play's cast of dancers. In accordance with the pulsating rhythms of Afrobeat music, the award winning choreography has moves that would make Bobby Brown blush. Sitting still during the band's--rump shaking--sets is virtually impossible.
Insightful, colorful and commanding are words that describe the energy of the play, but they still don't seem to have enough sentiment, to describe the play's bombastic nature. Ngauhjah and the--vastly talented--ensemble caters to a hungry audience, with dancing and clapping served with every note.
Be sure to check out FELA! during it's five day engagement (3/20-3/25) at the Academy of Music. Click here for more details!