Fela!, the Tony Award winning biographical musical about the life of Afrobeat music pioneer, Fela Kuti, rolls back into metro Detroit at Music Hall Center this week after a successful 3 week run last year. Fela! launched on Broadway in 2009 and received 11 nominations at 2010’s Tony Awards, taking home three. In this incarnation, Michelle Williams of Destiny’s Child, takes the on the role of female lead, Sandra Isadore. Williams is coming off of a high profile appearance with Beyonce Knowles at this year’s Super Bowl Halftime show about a week ago.
Fela Kuti was a Nigerian composer of Afrobeat music and human rights activist. Fela! follows Kuti performing at the Shrine nightclub as he faces social injustice and corruption from the Nigerian authorities. The show is filled with colorful staging, electrifying dance numbers, beautiful costumes, and Kuti’s famous Afrobeat music. At times throughout the show, the whole audience turns into an Afrobeat dance party with guidance from the shows actors and dancers. The African dancing in this show is some of the highest energy dancing among the most recent heap of Broadway shows. The dancers work their way through the audience at many points throughout the show making the show so much more thrilling to watch.
Kuti is played by Adesola Osakalumi, who wows the audience with his singing, dancing and acting ability. Osakalumi does of fantastic time of carrying just about every scene of the show. Osakalumi is a very charismatic and captivating performer, he held everyone in the theatre by the palm of his hand. Williams does a superb job with the role of Isadore, she is equally a skilled dancer, singer and actress. Kuti tells tales and jokes throughout the show with varying levels of crudeness and profanity, probably not safe for children, but guaranteed to get multiple laughs from any audience.
The staging and lighting is very colorful and exciting to look at and makes good use of the area that they have to work with. Fela! was produced by Jay-Z, and Will and Jada Smith, which most of the advertising for Fela! doesn’t forget to mention. The storyline and the Afrobeat music should be accessible to pretty much every potential theatregoer, even if you haven’t already been exposed to the music. The Afrobeat music is all about the rhythm and heat much like the show.
Fela! runs in Detroit through Sunday, February 17, 2013: Get tickets here!