A spectacularly inspiring and triumphant tale of courage, passion and love, FELA! is based on the life of Fela Kuti, who created Afrobeat—a blend of jazz, funk and African rhythm and harmonies—and mixed these sensual eclectic rhythms with simple but powerful lyrics that openly assailed Nigeria’s corrupt and oppressive dictatorships. Featuring many of Fela Kuti’s most captivating songs performed by a combined cast of the original Broadway production and the Royal National Theatre production all under Bill T. Jones’s visionary staging, FELA! reveals Kuti’s life as an artist and human rights activist and celebrates his pioneering music in what has been hailed as one of the most exciting, exhilarating and vital stage experiences in recent memory.
FELA!, the most critically acclaimed musical of the 2010 season, received three Tony Awards®: Best Choreography, Best Costume Design for a Musical and Best Sound Design of a Musical! His story inspired a nation. His music inspires the world. FELA! tells the true story of the legendary Nigerian musician Fela Kuti, whose soulful Afrobeat rhythms ignited a generation. Motivated by his mother, a civil rights champion, he defied a corrupt and oppressive military government and devoted his life and music to the struggle for freedom and human dignity. FELA! is a triumphant tale of courage, passion and love, featuring Fela Kuti’s captivating music and the visionary direction and choreography of Tony Award® winner Bill T. Jones.
FELA! first came to life in 2000 when New Yorker, Stephen Hendel, stumbled across a CD of the Nigerian firebrand, iconoclast, rabble-rouser and composer of genius, Fela Anikulapo Kuti. He was so impressed with the music and with Fela’s keen sense of social justice that he determined to create a theatre piece expressing the timeless and universal message contained in how Fela committed his gift as a voice for the disenfranchised.
In 2004 Steve Hendel joined forces with Tony Award®-winning choreographer, Bill T. Jones, who he invited to direct the play. Bill then brought in writer Jim Lewis and together the three set about mounting a series of workshops, involving musicians, actors, dancers and technicians. It soon became clear that attempting to compress the entirety of Fela’s turbulent and event-filled life into a stage play was impossible. They elected to create a painting; an ode to determination and truth to power by concentrating on one short, highly-charged period during the late seventies, using it as a vehicle through which to present a prime example of commitment and courage and art used as an expression of human dignity.
Fela had used his extraordinary big-band music as a medium in which he created biting, satirical diatribes against the excesses of successive military regimes in his native Nigeria. Any form of injustice, oppression, mismanagement, corruption was fearlessly and ferociously attacked, using eloquent harangues that specifically named the perpetrators.
He had paid a steep price for his bravery in the face of powerful and implacable enemies, with 200 arrests and countless beatings that left scars all over his body. But even these beatings didn’t stop him. “Ah well, they didn’t kill me,” he would proclaim as he wrote yet another acerbic lyric and gave inflammatory quotes to the press.
Fela died in August 1997. AIDS, they said, but as far as those close to him were concerned, he died of one beating too many. He was a giant of a man, but a man nevertheless. The system can only take so much. One million people attended his funeral.
His legacy was a testament of incredible courage, together with almost 50 albums of music that are now available globally through Knitting Factory Records. His message of transparency, honest government and justice for all is still as relevant today as when it was when first released 4 decades ago—not just in Nigeria, but globally.
Inspired by Fela’s courage and incredible musical mastery, it took two years of development for the creative and technical team to reach the stage where they were ready to begin mounting the piece Off-Broadway at a New York theatre complex, 37 Arts.
They spent three months at 37 Arts perfecting the production before they were ready to open “FELA! The Musical.” The show was an immediate and unmitigated critical and public success. Celebrities flocked to see the show: Jay-Z, Beyoncé, Alicia Keys, Christine Amanpour, Charlize Theron and countless others. The decision was made to go to Broadway.
With the blessings of the Kuti family, in 2009 FELA! opened at the Eugene O’Neill Theatre and with Shawn “Jay-Z” Carter and Will & Jada Pinkett-Smith coming on board as producers, played to half a million people over the next 15 months. Celebrities kept coming; Madonna, Denzel Washington, Ben Stiller, Mick Jagger, Sting, Harry Belafonte, Spike Lee (8 times!), Kofi Annan and Michelle Obama, to name but a few. The show received 11 Tony® nominations and three Tony Awards® for Best Choreography, Best Costumes and Best Sound. In 2010, whilst still on Broadway, a second company was formed to present a sold-out season of performances at London’s prestigious Royal National Theatre.
Since its 15 month Tony Award®-winning run on Broadway, an amalgam company has been created from members of the American and European casts. Audiences in their many hundreds of thousands on both sides of the Atlantic, including a triumphal series of performances in Fela’s beloved Lagos, have risen to their feet in admiration of the play’s ethos and execution. We would be surprised if you do not do the same.
The show is back on tour in the United States. Don’t miss it! Click here for the tour schedule. Check back often as we are adding cities all the time..
“FELA! boasts hit songs, thrilling dances and a riveting story. But this Broadway success, which runs through Sunday at the Adrienne Arsht Center, is also radically different from other musicals. The show brings us inside the seething, incandescent and precarious life of the Nigerian musical and political revolutionary Fela Anikulapo Kuti. That it succeeds in captivating American audiences with a world that would seem to be utterly foreign and disturbing to them is part of the achievement. FELA! does not lecture. But like the life of its subject, the show is celebratory and tragic in equal measure.”
“FELA! boasts hit songs, thrilling dances, and a riveting story. Adesola Osakalumi gives a tour de force performance with riveting power and charisma and the company makes the music and dancing so terrifically vivid and expressive.”
“THE HOT (AND SERIOUSLY COOL) ENERGY that comes from the musical gospel preached by the title character of FELA! feels as if it could stretch easily to the borders of Manhattan and then across a river or two. There should be dancing in the streets!”
“JOLTING and JOYOUS”
“Incorporates the spirit of summertime as infectiously as any show on Broadway. It isn’t just entertainment—IT’S LIFE, LIBERTY AND THE PURSUIT OF HAPPINESS.”
“BRILLIANT, ORIGINAL, VISIONARY, this show is an aural and visual FEAST that SHAKES, RATTLES and ROLLS to the rafters.”
“EVERY SINGLE DANCER, SINGER and BAND MEMBER is a BRILLIANT SOLO ARTIST”
“A great humane and transcendental fable come to life, with everything “fable” implies; MYTHIC, FABULOUS and a supreme lesson in living, here supplied magisterially by choreographer BILL T. JONES and his star, SAHR NGAUJAH.”
“FELA! RADIATES JOY.”
“FIVE STARS (out of five) FELA! is more than a musical…an ECSTATIC PHENOMENON.”
“BILL T. JONES wildly loose-limbed journey into the throbbing heart of Afrobeat BREAKS BOLD NEW GROUND IN MUSICAL THEATRE.”
“FELA! is as rowdy as it is rousing. (It) is one of the most ORIGINAL and EXCITING shows to come around in a long while.”
“There’s enough energy in the first act of FELA! to short circuit Con Ed. It spills over from the stage and into the orchestra seats. BOUNDLESS AND JOYOUS: This is as close as Broadway gets to fully immersive theatre.”
“Fela! is exuberant and authentically original entertainment.”
“Melanie Marshall shines! Her soaring voice, dignified presence and otherworldly air add another dimension to the show.”
“Fela! registers its relevance by agitating for political engagement rather than disengagement – whatever your language or medium of expression.”
“If ever a show’s name deserved the all-caps, exclamation mark treatment, FELA! is it. Both the man and the multiple-Tony Award-winning musical about him are larger than life, spectacles equally spiritual, sensual and cerebral.”
“A riot of color and sound, a feast that defies your senses to take in!”
“Electrifying! Explosive applause! So many musical riches to behold, so much to see and savor. A testament not just to charisma but to the power of music, to capture, channel and communicate.
In Fela!, song follows irresistible song, alternating moods of mystery, political passion, anguish, sensuality, sly wit, and celebratory joy. The opening number gets the collective pulse racing. A short while later the ante is upped accelerating to a pace that practically calls for a defibrillator. Sensational from start to finish. By all means, don’t miss Fela! Ngaujah is simply sensational, start to finish.”
“Brilliantly conceived, spectacularly executed, FELA! is a theatrical spectacle unlike anything you’ve ever seen!”
“Fela! is every bit deserving of its exclamation point. A theatrical spectacle unlike anything you’ve ever seen. It’s brilliantly conceived and extraordinarily executed.”
“A once in a lifetime experience. Pull your car over so you can immediately buy tickets on the phone. If you are having breakfast now put down the bagel and order the tickets. This is an amazing production. Powerful and terrific, it just consumes your soul.”
“You must see the Tony Award-winning Broadway show Fela! It’s a spectacularly inspiring hybrid: theater, music, dance, biography, history lesson, political rally, religious experience, and the first theatrical production I’ve REALLY wanted to write about in awhile. The cast is sublime. Fela! is one of the most exhilarating and enlightening evenings I’ve ever spent in a theater!”
“A ground-breaking musical.”
““Sahr Ngaujah, a formidable performer who delivers his character all the way to the rafters of the theater.”
“One is Ngaujah, a formidable, in-the-moment performer.”
“Both Paulette Ivory and the magnificently voiced Melanie Marshall, who can make Afrobeat sound like the music of the angels, are quite fine.”
“If your inner percussion section isn’t set free by Fela!, you might want to ask your seatmate to check your vital signs.”
“It’s hard to recall a musical that conjures with such explosive imaginative energy a man, his voice and his politics.”
“Fela! is a madly physical, prodigiously exuberant bio-musical, infused with African brio and outrage. It’s electroshock for the soul.”
“The dancing has the magical intensity and the suaveness to inspire the squarest pegs in the audience to feel as if they might somehow shimmy into the coolest holes.”
“For sheer musical exuberance, Fela! sets the bar high enough to raise the ceiling of any house. What makes it an exhilarating piece of musical theater, though, is the genius with which choreographer and director Bill T. Jones embodies the excitement in the astonishingly energetic bodies of his cast.”
“Stunning vocals by Melanie Marshall.”
“Fela’s story is brilliantly embodied in the wounded dignity, arrogance and artistic generosity of Ngaujah’s indelible and wondrously energetic performance, whether in speech, resonant song or wailing, grunting saxophone.”
“Paulette Ivory, as his American lover Sandra, sings gorgeously.”
“Fela! is a rare phenomenon—an American musical that tells its story through the music and liberated, full-body dancing that is an extension of its percussive groove. Under Bill T. Jones’s directions it’s no surprise that it moves as hypnotically as it sounds.”
“Freedom is contagious and the joyful liberty of this thrilling cast is something theatergoers will be happy to catch.”
“Funmilayo is portrayed with an affecting grace and extraordinary vocal radiance by the magnetic Melanie Marshall.”
“Paulette Ivory shines.”