FELA! DAZZLES LAGOSIANS…IN BROADWAY MUSICAL SHOW
Following a five-day show at the Expo Hall of Eko Hotel on Lagos Island, the Broadway musical, tagged: Fela! recorded a robust stage presence in Lagos. The show, which will soon move to Ghana, provided a sweet reunion of Africans at home and their counterparts in the Diaspora, even as Nigerians trooped out in large numbers, despite the election period, to savour the total theatre from the Broadway cast and crew.
Unlike the screening at the New Afrika Shrine in Ikeja early in the year, the Broadway stage (setting) was recreated at the Expo Hall of Eko Hotel, with a rather complex, yet creative set that afforded the artistes ample opportunity to display their talents. In the process, the audience had a clearer and natural feel of the cast on stage, as against the Ikeja screening, which was facilitated by the British Council, Nigeria.
Led by Sahr Uguajah, the Sierra Leonean dancer/actor, the theatre production gave Nigerians a rare showcase of talents display, with the artistes rekindling the universal values and legacies of the late Afrobeat king in diverse mediums. Using esoteric movements and electrifying choreography, the young and energetic dancers/singers succeeded in making a cultural statement, as demonstrated in their bold and highly creative interpretation of the Fela musical world. They wore captivating costumes depicting the eccentricity and versatility of Fela, even as they took positions on stage to sing Fela's many classics. But a popular one, Rere Run, played rhythmically at the background for most of the time that the performance lasted.
Storming the stage amid loud ovation, Uguajah first greeted the crowd with the familiar refrain Everybody say Yeye ! Expectedly, the elated crowd responded Ye-ye! He then went on to demonstrate his energy as a boisterous performer, thrilling the audience with songs, dance steps and talks that reminisce on Fela Anikulapo-Kuti's vision and philosophy. He was soon joined by other dancers/singers who sang or mimed songs of the late musician, including I No Be Gentleman, Break It Down (BID), Water No Get Enemy, Palava, Teacher, Don't Teach Me Nonsense and Kerekeke Ji Keke.
Although the Broadway ensemble had neither a Nigerian nor a member of the late Fela Anikulapo-Kuti in its cast, the latter had some of its members reinvigorating the Fela spirit as depicted in such subjects as Igbo (Marijuana), 419 (Advanced Fee Fraud), ITT (International Thief Thief), Yansh (an euphemism for bottom power), Colonial Mentality and Lagos life.
A landmark musical, Fela! which celebrates the life and times of legendary Nigerian musician and activist, Fela Anikulapo-Kuti, had won three Tony Awards, including Best Choreography (Bill T. Jones), before coming to Lagos. It ran from April 20 through 25, with thousands of Nigerians trooping to the Expo Hall to see the show.
With its original Broadway cast, Fela! again starred Sahr Ngaujah as Fela Kuti with musical accompaniment by the internationally renowned Antibalas as well as other members of the New York City Afrobeat community. The show made history as the first of its type to be taken out of Broadway for performance in sub-Saharan Africa.
According to the organizers, Fela! in Lagos aimed at uniting and connecting Africans in spirit and unity, as well as serving as a catalyst for cultural revival in Nigeria. It is also meant to celebrate Fela Anikulapo-Kuti, in recognition of the contributions he made to Nigeria and the world in general. Fela!, is the celebration of the legendary musician, Fela! had opened and triumphed at London's Royal National Theatre for a three-month sold-out. It has also clinched three major awards, including Best Musical, Best Actor (Sahr Ngaujah) and Best Choreography (Bill T. Jones). This
Nigerian engagement would be the first since the closing of the Broadway and London productions and the NTLive performance, which was broadcast in 370 cinemas worldwide.
Fela! has also won numerous awards and received standing ovations from such personalities as Mick Jagger, Madonna, Bruce Springsteen, Spike Lee, Ben Okri, Janet Jackson, Denzel Washington, Professor Wole Soyinka, Robert De Niro, and Hugh Jackman. Also American First lady, Michelle Obama, former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan and President Obama's Head of Homeland Security, Janet Napolitano are but three of the dignitaries who have embraced this show.
Fela! on Broadway was conceived by a team comprising Bill T. Jones, Jim Lewis and Stephen Hendel. Its producers include the entertainment legends Shawn Jay-Z Carter and Will and Jada Pinkett Smith.