(The clip above is from the Off-Broadway production of 'Fela!')
(Doing our best to bring you John Simon reviews of plays he actually liked, this article appeared on Bloomberg, Nov. 24.)
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.
Transplanted from off-Broadway, “Fela!” is less structured than your typical Broadway musical but surely more encompassing than most.
On one level, it is the story of Fela Anikulapo-Kuti, Nigerian composer, singer, bandleader and political activist, founder in Lagos of the Shrine, a bastion of his populist music and ideas. From there sprung his and his followers’ resistance to successive totalitarian governments and his approximately 200 arrests, beatings and torture before his death at age 58 in 1997.
The show is partly storytelling (book by Jones and Jim Lewis) which can, despite some liberties taken, pass for history-telling. Fela was also the father of Afrobeat, which melded influences from Nigerian Yoruba to Coltrane, Afro-Cuban mambo to Sinatra and then some.
Visit Stage Voices blog for video: http://stagevoices.typepad.com/stage_voices/