Review: Fela! (Musical Presented by Jay-Z, Will & Jada Pinkett Smith, & Questlove)

On Tuesday, March 12th, 2013, I sat in The Merriam Theatre as both press and a true fan of the theatre. Popular demand has encouraged producers Will Smith, Jada Pinkett-Smith, Jay Z and Stephen and Ruth Hendel to bring the national touring production of 'FELA!' back to the City of Brotherly Love. Watching, I felt as if I was 'na de Shrine' and I'm sure that's what director and choreographer Bill T. Jones had in mind with this production.

Set in The Shrine in Lagos, Nigeria, 'FELA!' is a show inside of a show that centers on Fela Kuti, an outward opposer of the corrupt and repressive military dictatorships that ruled Nigeria and much of Africa during the late 70's.  Fela Kuti created Afrobeat, a mixture of eclectic drums with lyrics to reflect his feelings towards oppression. His name became known across the world, however, The Shrine was his club, his world.
 Adesola Osakalumi in FELA by Sharen Bradford
Fela himself, played by Adelsola Osakalumi, was overflowing with character so it's no question why people chose to flock to his club or why women chose to flock to his side. With a charismatic cast of Queens in his entourage we saw Fela Kuti come alive on the Merriam Theatre stage. Fela was known to poke fun at his audience and Osakalumi did just that, all while still in character.
 
Melanie Marshall and Sahr Ngaujah by Tristram Kenton

Breathtaking solos from Melanie Marshall cast as Fela's mother Funmilayo, tugged at my heart strings while the tit for tat duets with his wife Sandra Isadore, played by Michelle Williams, made me want to get out and fight a cause.
Michelle Williams and Adesola Osakalumi by Carol Rosegg
 
The stage was used well during this production and I encourage everyone to purchase tickets before the final show on Sunday. This story is based on more than the creation of a new genre of music. This is a tale of history, brightened by colorful fabrics and high notes, but the story remains the same. Following the course of true events, at one point the audience sits on the edge of their seats, shocked at the reality of Fela's compound being raided by the Army and the torture of his Queens and mother. You can't resist responding to this production. I gasped. I laughed. And I also left more informed about Fela Kuti and Nigerian culture.
 FELA  by Monique Carboni
The cast was convincing, the band brought the score alive, and Gelan Lambert's tap dancing added a fun element. 'FELA!' is a MUST SEE! For tickets, head over to kimmelcenter.org or ticketphiladelphia.org, by calling 215-893-1999. The show is here for limited time only!

-Nola Darling



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