Thursday, October 02, 2014

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NY1 Theater Review: "Fela!"

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The 2009 Broadway musical "Fela!" is back on Broadway for a limited run. NY1's Roma Torre filed the following report.

My acquaintance with Fela goes back four years when the musical first burst onto the theatre scene in its acclaimed off-Broadway run. It returned a year later on Broadway and dazzled audiences for 13 months. It stayed very much alive since then, performing in London and going on a world tour. And now that it's back I'm very happy to say this brilliantly original, visionary show has not missed a beat.

That would be the Afrobeat, the musical hybrid of African, funk, jazz and Latin rhythms created by that force of nature known as Fela Kuti.

Embodied by original lead Sahr Ngaujah and Adesola Osakalumi in alternating performances, these quadruple threats are in perpetual motion, portraying the singer, dancer, musician and activist with utter virtuosity.

Fela famously used his music as a weapon against the oppressive Nigerian government. Amid constant persecution, arrests and torture, he played on at his Club Shrine even though his own mother was killed by soldiers.

The show is in great shape and musically as fresh as ever. Tony winning director/ choreographer Bill T. Jones, the creative force behind the production made some welcome changes; but clocking in at 2 hours and 40 minutes, the loosely structured work still feels a little too long.

But it remains an aural and visual feast. The gifted ensemble of dancers, eight gorgeous women and four chiseled men in Marina Draghici's Tony-winning costumes, manage to craft personalities even as they shake rattle and roll to the rafters.

Unfortunately, I have no video to show of the two new principals: Paulette Ivory as love interest Sandra and Melanie Marshall, playing Fela's noble mother but they're both excellent. If you haven't already seen this incredible work, now's your chance. If you have been before, it's a thrill that bears repeating.

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