Tuesday August 22nd 2017

“Fela!”

Most of us have no knowledge of Fela Anikulapo-Kuti, a Nigerian, who was raised among the elite. His parents had hoped that he would become a physician and sent him off to London, but unlike his siblings, music was his real love and so he studied music and combined American Jazz with Latin ( Cuban) flavors, developing his own style, which is known as “Afrobeat” combining traditional  African themes to the jazz and Latin he loved so greatly. His band Koola Lobitos and traveled to the United States, where he met Sandra Isadore. This was the late 60’s and things were changing in the U.S.. Ms Isadore introduced him to the books of the time and the politics of Black Nationalism and Afrrocentrism. He then took all of his new views and band back to Lagos with a new name for the group- Nigeria 70. In Lagos, he formed a commune that was also a recording studio and opened a night club, called “The Shrine”. He continued having great success with his sound ( changing the name of his group to Africa 70) and became a huge star. His music became more than just a sound, but a cry for the people who were disenfranchised, making him more than a pop star, he became a political figure. While the people loved him, the military harassed and jailed him, almost killing him on several occasions.

“Fella!” ( with a book by Jim Lewis and Bill T. Jones) and the music of  Fela himself in a strong production that fills the theater with music and dance as we learn about the life of this man and the struggles that he faced in a country that was far from a democracy. This production is “energy personified’ with a cast of performers who take us on a journey into a world that we can only begin to imagine. It is a tale of courage on the part of Fela as well as his love for his mother, his music and his people.

The strong cast led by Sahr Ngaujah as Fela uses the entire stage as well as the aisles and plays well off the audience as well. This is supposedly their last concert at “The Shrine” and so what we have is a story being told in a concert format with brilliant songs and unbelievable dance. Fela’s mother , Funmilayo has just died and part of this concert is a tribute to this learned woman. Melanie Marshall plays this role and her song “Trouble Sleep” in the first act is one that will send chills up your spine. Paulette Ivory is a knockout in the role of Sandra and Gelan Lambert sure does his stuff with his tap dancing.

Directed and Choreographed by Bill T. Jones this is a very quick 2 hours and 40 minutes of magic on stage. I will tell you that the history lesson opens one’s eyes to a culture that we have read about and seen movies about, but the music and the energy on stage makes it entertaining as well as educational. Mr. Ngaujah is  a marvelous singer/actor and he shows his true ability as he mimes playing one mean saxaphone ( credit to Morgan Price, the onstage tenor sax player who hides in the shadows allowing us to see Fela shine)Tonight’s audience was into what they saw and felt, and I imagine, found themselves dancing as they stood to applaud this masterful production.

“Fela!” will continue at The Oriental Theatre as part of  the Broadway In Chicago series through April 15th with performances as follows:

Tuesdays, Wednesdays,Thursdays, Fridays and Sundays at 7:30 p.m. ( except on Sunday 4/8 no performance in the evening),Saturdays at 8 p.m.

Matinees at 2 p.m. are Wednesdays (April 4th) and Saturdays and Sundays.

Tickets range from $25-$90 and are available at any of the Broadway In Chicago box offices, at The Broadway In Chicago kiosk ( Water Tower Place), by calling the Broadway In Chicago Ticketline at 800-775-2000, at all Ticketmaster outlets and online at www.BroadwayInChicago.com

 

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