Running since October 2009 A new musical based on the life of Nigerian composer and political activist Fela Anikulapo-Kuti (the father of the hypnotic, percussive style known as Afrobeat) comes to Broadway. Winner of 3 Tony Awards, including Best Choreography. Closes January 2nd.
The Broadway production of Fela! closed January 2, 2011. For current Broadway show listings and tickets, please click here.
This show, directed and choreographed by downtown legend Bill T. Jones, originated Off-Broadway, where its 2008 production was embraced by audiences and critics. The same has been true on Broadway, and the show seems set for an exciting awards season and a solid run.
"Fela!" captures the jubilant nature of Afrobeat (which combines Afro-Caribbean rhythm, jazz brass, Yoruban chant, and R&B) in a hybrid format that mixes concert, dance, and musical theatre. As the USA Today critic wrote, "Fela! earns its exclamation point, joyfully and relentlessly.”
Some critics found the story-telling somewhat lacking, but as the NY Times noted, the musical "doesn’t so much tell a story, as soak an audience to and through the skin with the musical style and sensibility" of the wildly-talented, extravagant, decadent, and rebellious Fela Anikulapo-Kuti.
Here's a promotional video that will give you a good sense of production:
Choreographer Bill T. Jones has shaped a stirring production around Kuti's outsize personality and key events from his rebellious, unconventional life, set to the percussive Afrobeat music Kuti invented. The result is "Fela!," a terrific dance party of a musical, an exuberant celebration that also drives home a spirited message of human resilience.
For Broadway, the story's been trimmed and is more tightly focused, but it remains the lesser part of the evening. It's understandable that much book time is devoted to Fela's politics. After a while, though, the generalized condemnations of oppression and exploitation become repetitious. We feel the heat, but there's not much light. All of that, though, is Broadway-musical trimmings. Go to "Fela!" anticipating a super-stimulating, world-class song-and-dance concert, led by a remarkable performer, and you won't be disappointed.
Perhaps the closest I can come to conveying my experience of "Fela!" is to call it a great humane and transcendent fable come to life, with everything "fable" implies: mythic, fabulous and a supreme lesson in living, here supplied magisterially by choreographer Bill T. Jones and his star, Sahr Ngaujah.
New York Daily News
As rowdy as it is rousing, [the show] blends irresistibly catchy music, explosive dance and a dramatic personal journey to tell the story of a songwriter and political activist who died at age 58 in 1997. Writers Jim Lewis and Bill T. Jones have kept its ferociously infectious spirit intact. And, wisely, the same dazzling actor Sahr Ngaujah, who makes a big, bold and ridiculously sexy Broadway debut as Fela.
New York Post
Directed and choreographed by Bill T. Jones, the biography is at its most thrilling when it blurs the line between life and art, performers and viewers. It's a tough act to keep up, and "Fela!" does struggle after intermission.
New York Times
As brought to the stage by Mr. Jones, "Fela!" doesn't so much tell a story as soak an audience to and through the skin with the musical style and sensibility practiced by its leading man. By the end of this transporting production, you feel you have been dancing with the stars. And I mean astral bodies, not celebrities.
The songs are a jubilant, subtle mixture of Afro-Caribbean rhythm, jazz brass, Yoruban chant and R&B. But they were never meant to carry a story on their back, and they do not. Director-choreographer Bill T. Jones creates an ebullient party atmosphere. Sahr Ngaujah has the oversized presence to overcome the more incoherent parts of his story.
Delivering exuberant storytelling through song and dance, "Fela!" achieves something closer to the essence of great musicals than many more conventional shows have of late. "Fela!" earns its exclamation point, joyfully and relentlessly.
Bill T. Jones' wildly loose-limbed journey into the throbbing heart of Afrobeat breaks bold new ground in musical theater. It leans more toward celebratory tribute than warts-and-all portrait. But such reservations are secondary to the tremendous raw authenticity and electric energy of this dance-heavy bio-musical, and the dangerous sensuality of Sahr Ngaujah.
Wall Street Journal
The music and dancing are so good that if "Fela!" had been a half-hour shorter, I wouldn't have been overly troubled by its shapelessness. Alas, it plays for 2½ hours, and by the time the festivities draw to a close, you'll feel as though you'd lingered too long at a Thanksgiving table piled high with goodies. Even so, Fela! is tremendous fun, and anyone with curious ears and an eye for first-class dancing won't want to miss it. Warning: Fela! is loud. Bring earplugs-and use them.