Afrobeat Musical Fela! Opens On Broadway Nov. 23

By Adam Hetrick
23 Nov 2009

Fela! stars Lillias White and Kevin Mambo
Fela! stars Lillias White and Kevin Mambo
Photo by Monique Carboni

Fela!, a biographical musical celebration of Nigerian musical pioneer and political activist Fela Kuti, opens on Broadway at the Eugene O'Neill Theatre Nov. 23.

After an acclaimed run Off-Broadway in 2008, Fela! began previews on Broadway Oct. 19. Sahr Ngaujah, who headlined the Off-Broadway premiere, alternates in the role of the late African musical figure, with Kevin Mambo (Ruined). The principal cast also features Tony winner Lillias White (The Life, Dreamgirls, Once On This Island) as Fela Anikulapo-Kuti's mother, Funmilayo Ransome Kuti, and Hair's Saycon Sengbloh as his love interest, Sandra.

Completing the Fela! company are Corey Baker, Hettie Barnhill, Nicole Chantal DeWeever, Lauren Deveaux, Elasea Douglas, Rujeko Dumbutshena, Catherine Foster, Talu Green, Shaneeka Harrell, Abena Koomson, Ismael Kouyate, Gelan Lambert, Farai M. Malianga, Shakira Marshall, Afi McClendon, Adesola Osakalumi, Jeffrey Page, Daniel Soto, Jill M. Vallery, J.L. Williams, Iris Wilson and Aimee Graham Wodobode.

Fela! star Sahr Ngaujah
photo by Monique Carboni
Tony-winning Spring Awakening choreographer Bill T. Jones directs and choreographs the production that features a book by Jones and Jim Lewis and utilizes Anikulapo-Kuti's own music. Lewis, a Tony nominee for Chronicle of a Death Foretold, also penned additional lyrics. The musical was conceived by Bill T. Jones, Jim Lewis and Stephen Hendel.

The production incorporates the Afrobeat orchestra Antibalas and other members of the NYC Afrobeat community, under the direction of Aaron Johnson, who perform Kuti's music live onstage.



In Fela!, according to production notes, "audiences are welcomed into the extravagant, decadent and rebellious world of Afrobeat legend Fela Anikulapo Kuti. Using his pioneering music (a blend of jazz, funk and African rhythm and harmonies), [the musical] explores Kuti's controversial life as artist, political activist and revolutionary musician."

The design team includes scenic and costume designer Marina Draghici, lighting designer Rob Wierzel, sound designer Rob Kaplowitz and projection designer Peter Nigrini. Aaron Johnson and Jordan McLean will provide musical arrangements.

The musical, which earned the 2008 Lucille Lortel honor for Best Musical, played an acclaimed engagement at the now-closed 37 Arts in 2008. 37 Arts was also the birthplace of the Tony-winning musical In the Heights.

Fela! is produced by Shawn "Jay-Z" Carter, Will & Jada Pinkett Smith, Ruth & Stephen Hendel, Roy Gabay, Edward Tyler Nahem, Slava Smolokowski, Chip Meyrelles/Ken Greiner, Steve Semlitz/Cathy Glazer, Daryl Roth/True Love Productions, Knitting Factory Entertainment and Susan Dietz. In association with Ahmir "?uestlove" Thompson.

Visit FelaonBroadway.