I went in to Fela! with high expectations. When I mentioned on my Facebook status update and on twitter that I was headed to the show, numerous people responded enthusiastically that they loved it, had told friends about it, that it was AMAZING. I’ve also heard Fela! is popular with celebs–Jay-Z and Jada Pinkett and Will Smith are all producers. One Facebook friend said she saw Gayle King, Alan Rickman and Spike Lee in the audience. We spotted Denzel Washington one row behind us.
Fela! is more of a interactive, multimedia experience than a traditional Broadway musical. The entire theater is set to look like a club with lights strewn all about and patrons are encouraged to take cocktails to their seats. The actors dance through the aisles and part of the stage extends into the seats (We were lucky enough to be seated right next to this catwalk.). There’s a portrait that moves (think Harry Potter) and film clips and subtitles are shown throughout the show; at times it was hard to know where to focus my attention with so much going on.
The dancing and athleticism is BEYOND. It’s truly a delight to watch Fela’s “queens” who represent his 27(!) wives shake their booties and shimmy their hips. Each woman has her own body type (athletic and short, tall and skinny) and it’s a pleasure to watch them move. The guys are just as sexy, with six packs to spare and one gent shows off impressive lung power by singing while hanging upside down from a ladder. My hubby and I both felt inspired to get our butts to the gym–guess that’s why Crunch gym created the Fela! class.
The music, the majority of which is Fela’s own, is impossible to sit still to. In fact, Fela gives a dance lesson to the audience and you’re also invited to sing a long at parts. While I enjoyed this, I couldn’t help but wonder how this went over on the older members of the audience.
My big gripe with Fela is that the story barely scrapes the surface. Fela Kuti was a Nigerian musical revolutionary. (I don’t want to even get into telling his story because I’m sure I won’t do it justice. Read the New York Time’s recap of his life.) For example, when Fela asks a group of several women to marry him, they initially scoff, then form a huddle, then say yes after taking less time than Drew Brees to call a play. The time line was hard to follow with flashbacks and dream sequences. I know I wasn’t the only one to feel this way; a woman behind me asked after the end of Act I why there was no curtain call. The play has two acts.
In the end, I guess the spirit of Fela is more important than the details and this show has personality, energy and passion in spades.