Fela! breezed into the Twin Cities on June 12th making its Ordway Theater debut to a diverse and sold out crowd yearning for the cultural masterpiece. The production, which crushed the Broadway circuit to a bevy of Tony awards and praise for its unique, engaging and monstrous message was produced by Jay-Z along with help from Will and Jada Pinkett-Smith. The show reprises the journey of Nigerian musician and activist Fela Kuti.
The play runs like a history lesson of the life and times of Fela Kuti (played by Sahr Ngaujah), the inventor of the Afrobeat style of music. Unlike other stage shows that chronicle an artist’s life, this play positions itself to be an interactive conversation between Fela and the audience. Audience members are encouraged to not just watch the exploration of dance, but rather participate in Fela’s dance lesson. We’re walked through the many evolving channels of how Fela found his musical style; how his sound was influenced by other musical styles like jazz, blue grass, Frank Sinatra and many others. We also see how he got his wings for activism.
In a sense, the show has two hemispheres— two polarizing tones that are the backdrop of the production. It is on Fela’s journey to the United States where the lighthearted and fluffy production transitions into a something deeper and more intense; a piece that will move your emotions from anger to tears. Fela’s links up with the Black Panthers where he is taught about Black Power through the language and revelations offered in books like “Nigger” and “Black Boy.” Fela fall’s in love with the idea of Black Power and joins the chase for Black rights by bringing these sentiments back to his homeland.
Fela returns to Nigeria and joins his friends and family in a campaign to demand their rights and the level of respect that had been stripped from the Nigerian people by their government. Fela utilizes his afrobeat style of music to teach his people about standing up for what they believe in, and going after “the man” for mistreatment and inequality. The people of Nigeria latch on to Fela’s words, and became walking musical notes illustrating his message and carrying a torch to fight injustice. However, the government quickly labels Fela a troublemaker, and the end result is prison and death to his mother and many of his followers.
The production of Fela! will strike a cord in everyone and deliver you through a myriad of emotions as Fela both finds and loses himself in the music and through the foothills of inequality. The show promises to expose its audience to a world they may have never known about, and is definitely one they’ll never forget. The play was here for only a short week, but in that time frame it definitely made an impact.
To view the rest of the Ordway Theaters upcoming season: http://www.ordway.org/performances/1112/