By Andrew Gans
02 Jan 2011
After an acclaimed run Off-Broadway in 2008, Fela! began previews on Broadway Oct. 19, 2009. The musical based on the life and music of groundbreaking African composer Fela Anikulapo Kuti currently features Kevin Mambo in the title role with Grammy winner Patti LaBelle.
On Nov. 16, 2010, Fela! opened at the Royal National Theatre in London, starring Sahr Ngaujah, who originated the title role on Broadway. An international tour of Fela! is currently being booked by Margaret Selby of CAMI Spectrum and Gary McAvay of CAMI Theatricals; dates will be announced shortly.
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.
Fela! won three 2010 Tony Awards: Best Costume Design, Best Sound Design and Best Choreography.