EXCLUSIVE: Fela! Will Begin U.S. National Tour in 2011; Lagos a Possibility

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05 May 2010

<I>Fela!</I> star Sahr Ngaujah
Fela! star Sahr Ngaujah
Monique Carboni

Can you say "Yeah, Yeah!?" The Afrobeat musical Fela!, which earned 11 Tony Award nominations including Best Musical, will launch a U.S. national tour in late 2011.

Playbill.com caught up with Bill T. Jones, who conceived, directed, choreographed and co-authored the book to the biographical musical about Nigerian musician Fela Anikulapo Kuti, during the May 6 Tony nominees reception.

The current three-time Tony nominee (and winner for Spring Awakening in 2007) said, "[Fela!] is definitely gonna hit the road. Late 2011 the tour will start, is what our lead producer told me last night." Jones noted that several theatres across the country were interested in producing the production and that the team had received numerous production inquiries from Europe.

London's National Theatre will present the European premiere of Fela!, which Jones said would be a 12-week run. "There is every indication that if it works well there, it will either sit there for a while or move." As previously reported, Sahr Ngaujah, who earned a Best Actor Tony nomination for his performance in the title role of the African political and musical figure, will open the London production that begins Nov. 6.

In addition to London, Jones said he had also been contacted about a Lagos, Nigeria production of Fela!, which would bring the musical full circle. (The musical is set on Kuti's Lagos commune, The Shrine.)



"There's even talk about Lagos," he said. "They want it in October. I have not agreed, but it marks the 50th anniversary of Nigerian independence. So, how can we not?" Jones cautioned that while the prospect was promising, the Fela! team would already be stretched thin and rehearsing the London production during that timeline.

Fela! earned Tony nominations for Best Musical, Best Book of a Musical (Jim Lewis and Bill T. Jones), Best Actor (Sahr Nguajah), Best Featured Actress (Lillias White), Best Choreography (Jones), Best Direction (Jones), Best Orchestrations (Aaron Johnson), Best Scenic Design (Marina Draghici), Best Costume Design (Marina Draghici), Best Lighting Design (Robert Wierzel) and Best Sound Design (Robert Kaplowitz).

The musical opened on Broadway at the Eugene O'Neill Theatre Nov. 23, 2009, after an acclaimed run Off-Broadway in 2008 at 37 Arts.

Visit FelaonBroadway.

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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 Broadway 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.

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 "Questlove" Thompson.