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|A CurtainUp London Review
Woman are mattress, but you must be nice to them, and make them happy. That is what they are and that is what life is about. — Fela
The musical based on the life of Nigerian Afrobeat musician and political activist Fela Anikulapo-Kuti comes to London first for an outing at the National Theatre's Olivier and now for a month to Sadler's Wells. Full of exuberance and brightly coloured dance this is a wonderful experience for those who love Afrobeat and who like their musicals to be full on but for the rest of us it was exhausting to watch. I do however have immense respect for the performers whose energy is quite amazing.
Sahr Ngaujah as Fela with two of his queens (Photo: Tristram Kenton)
Sahr Ngaujah repeats his starring performance in which he created the role off and on Broadway, singing, dancing and playing the saxophone. He is a ball of energy and full of character. Paulette Ivory plays Sandra Izsadore the African American influence on Fela, based on real life Sandra Smith, when he goes to the United States and hears about the Black Power movement. Paulette Ivory has a beautiful voice and plays not just a political influence but a love one as well. Some of the queen dancers appeared on Broadway but others are home grown. Melanie Marshall plays Fela's mother, Funmilayo, a political activist and feminist who is murdered during the destruction of Fela's Shrine but who didn't succeed in teaching her son the message of feminism.
I found it hard to believe that it was the same choreographer Bill T. Jones who has been responsible for Spring Awakening so totally different are the styles! The Afrobeat opening dance numbers are tribal and based on being able to move your butt through 360 degrees or around the faces of a clock. The call for audience participation was responded to but few were able to do anything other than attempt what they were being called on to do.
The political story would be an interesting one but curiously I picked up no mention of the Biafran civil war which tore Nigeria apart in the late 1960s. The biography here of Fela is unashamedly hero worship, leaving out the unacceptable, his homophobia, his appalling attitude towards women and his death from an AIDS related illness. They do however mention the wedding when he married 27 women at once.
For reviews of Fela! in the USA go here and here.
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Conceived by Bill T. Jones, Jim Lewis and Stephen Hendel
Music and Lyrics: Fela Anikulapo-Kuti
Book by Jim Lewis and Bill T. Jones
Additional Lyrics: Jim Lewis
Additional Music: Aaron Johnson and Jordon McLean
Directed by Bill T. Jones
With: Sahr Ngaujah, Adesola Osakalumi, Melanie Marshall, Paulette Ivory. Gelan Lambert, Ismael Kouyaté, Talu Green, Jacqui Dubois, Nicole Chantal de Weever, Iris Wilson, Sherinne Anderson, Cindy Belliot, Nandi Bhebhe, Catia Mota Da Cruz, Catherine Foster, Poundo Gomis, Aimee Wodobode Graham, Wanjiru Kamuyu, Oneika Phillips, Jill Marie Vallery, ryan Rankine, Jermaine Rowe, Jonathan Andre, Thierry Picaut, Justin Prescott
Design: Marina Draghici
Choreography: Randy Skinner
Lighting: Robert Wierzel
Sound: Robert Kaplowitz
Projection Designer: Peter Nigrini
Running time: Two hours 40 minutes with an interval
Box Office: 0844 412 4300
Look at the tkts.co.uk website for daily reductions at West End theatres.
Booking to 28th August 2011
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 26th July 2011 performance at Sadler's Wells, Roseberry Avenue, London EC1R 4TN (Tube: Angel, Islington)
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