Last October, I witnessed one of the most profound musical productions on Broadway, “FELA“. The Eugene O’Neil Theater is home of this provocative hybrid concert of dance and musical genius. Based on the true life story of Fela Anikulapo- Kuti, this musical chronicles the progressive struggle against a corrupt and oppressive military government in Nigeria during the 1970s and 80s and Fela’s life devotion to freedom and human dignity through music.
The Tony nominated and award-winning musical, directed and choreographed by Bill. T Jones, has proven to be a big hit on Broadway. The musical is primarily set inside a nightclub (Shrine) where the singer was known to perform regularly. Through out the production there is a recurring theme of spiritually symbolized mainly by the connection between Fela and his mother Funmilayo Anikulapo-Kuti, who even after her death remained a huge influence in the life of FELA.
The role of FELA is alternated between Sierra-Leonean actor Sahr Ngaujah and Zimbabwean actor Kevin Mambo. Other Zimbabweans on cast are Rujeko Dumbutshena and Farai Malianga both in the ensemble. Between the electrifying beats of Highlife and the enchanting rhythms of the sax, one cant help but get up and dance to the sounds of FELA. I personally felt like I was at a live concert and Fela was performing onstage.
This tremendously successful tale has had a recent addition to its cast. Grammy award winner Patti LaBelle is planning to join the cast in September as Fela’s mother Funmilayo Anikulapo-Kuti. According to the New York Times, Ms. LaBelle said in a press release,
“After seeing the show, I was struck by the choreography and work of Bill T. Jones, and the passion and joy that overflows from the stage. Fela’s mother, Funmilayo, was a strong, truly inspiring woman, and I am so privileged to be able to pay tribute to her on the Broadway stage.”
The show is in its final stage and will be closing in January. However it will begin an international tour which many cities across the globe are looking forward to with great anticipation. Rumor has it that Nigerian musician D’Banj auditioned for the role of FELA, there however has been not actual confirmation of him securing the role. We wish him all the best and hope he gets the part.
If you have not already, head out to New York and see this amazing onstage revisitation of the life of Fela Kuti, it will be well worth your time.
“One of the truest tests of integrity is its blunt refusal to be compromised.”- Chinua Achebe