FELA! at the Ordway Center for Performing Arts
FELA! is a musical about the life and times of Fela Anikulapo Kuti. Fela was a Nigerian musician (jazz, funk and african rhythm and harmonies) as well as a political activist. The musical won three tony Awards in 2010 including Best Choreography. Upon first sitting down in the theatre and looking at the stage I could tell it was going to be good. The show began with a killer opening number with the lights and the music.
The music was interesting and had a combination of drums and a wonderful saxophone player. I was intrigued by this for not many musicals I had seen had ever featured a saxophone player. The musicians clearly knew what they were doing. I could not only hear the music but feel the music for they really knew how to play.
FELA! deserved their Tony Award for best choreography as the dancing was very authentic to it's African roots. The combination of colors from the lights as well as beat of the drums flowed through the entire theatre as each dancer swayed their bodies to their own beat. I was overall impressed with this new form of dancing, to me at least, in a musical. I was so used to "jazz-hands" typed musical dancing.
As I mentioned earlier, the authenticity of the music and costumes really brought the show to life. However sometimes the show was a little too alive. Many times Fela (played by Sahr Ngaujah) would address the audience with questions and jokes that I could hardly understand. The jokes were funny but it was the fact he had such a heavy authentic accent it was hard to understand. It didn't help either when half of the audience was shouting at cheering with him at parts that weren't even after a joke or song. They were just random whoots and hollers for Fela. As an actor myself I understand the need and possibility to break the fourth wall of the theatre and engage with your audience however I felt it was too much. At one point he even had the audience stand up and clap, shout and dance with him. I felt awkward. When I see a musical I want to sit, relax and be entertained. Not performing myself. That is the actors job. As an audience member I don't want to be dancing in the aisles.
Being a performer myself I really can appreciate talent when I see it and this whole cast had it. The dancing was spectacular and was down to every beat. Sometimes I felt as if they were improving their dancing the whole time. The music was authentic and full of energy. I was just very disappointed that the jumpy, sporadic and less than stellar plot line pulled me away from the stage. At point I literally had absolutely no idea what was going on. Besides the confusing story line, I found the show to be very enjoyable with an all star cast. It just wasn't my personal cup of tea.