Chicago, Monday, April 2, 2012. If Afrobeat and political legend Fela Anikulapo-Kuti (Oct. 15, 1938 - Aug. 2, 1997) were alive today, he'd be 72 years old. Instead he is being immortalized in the blockbuster musical FELA! (pronounced FAY-lah) which opened last Wednesday at Chicago's Oriental Theatre.
FELA!, directed by Bill T. Jones, is a provocative hybrid of dance, theatre and music exploring the extravagant world of Fela Kuti. The show has become an international sensation having been performed in three continents.
FELA! reveals Kuti's controversial life as an artist and a political activist and celebrates his pioneering music. It's the real life story of the man who created Afrobeat, with its characteristic pounding eclectic rhythms and incendiary lyrics that openly attacked the corrupt and oppressive military dictatorships that ruled Nigeria and much of Africa--especially during the 1970s. The powerful opening number, "Welcome Na De Shrine" performed by Fela and Company alone is worth the price of admission. Think "Hair" on steroids.
The role of Fela is performed magnificently by Oliver and Tony Award-nominated actor Sahr Ngaujah who bears a striking resemblance to the real-life Fela Kuti (Ngaujah also lead the original cast on Broadway and the West End). The extraordinarily grueling role requires Ngaujah, who's on-stage for all but a couple of minutes of the nearly 2-hour-and-40-minute production to jump, dance, climb, sing and mime the saxophone--while keeping the audience fully engaged and oftentimes on their feet.
Ngaujah is joined by the heavenly-voiced Melanie Marshall, who plays the role of his beloved mother, Funmilayo and Paulette Ivory, his American friend Sandra, who co-starred with Ngaujah in the Royal National Theatre production.
The highly talented female ensemble of nine representing Fela's real-life 27 "wives" captures the spirit and energy of the production with their amazingly choreographed dance and acrobatic pelvis gyrations.
The show is set in the Shrine, the Lagos nightclub where Fela reigned supreme. FELA! is directed and choreographed by Bill T. Jones, with a book by Jim Lewis and Bill T. Jones, and music and lyrics by Fela Anikulapo-Kuti. Conceived by Bill T. Jones, Jim Lewis and Stephen Hendel, the design and Tony Award winning costumes are by Marina Draghici, lighting design by Robert Wierzel and the Tony Award winning sound design by Robert Kaplowitz.
Individual tickets for FELA! range in price from $25-$90. Tickets are available at all Broadway In Chicago Box Offices (24 W. Randolph St., 151 W. Randolph St., 18 W. Monroe St. and 175 E. Chestnut), the Broadway In Chicago Ticket Kiosk at Water Tower Place (845 N. Michigan Ave.), the Broadway In Chicago Ticket Line at (800) 775‐2000, all Ticketmaster retail locations (including Hot Tix and select Carson Pirie Scott, Coconuts and fye stores), and online at Broadway in Chicago. A select number of premium seats are also available for many performances. Groups of 15 or more may receive a discount on most shows by calling (312) 977‐1710. Through April 15, Oriental Theatre, 24 W. Randolph St. Running time: 2 hours, 40 minutes.