I am so grateful I was invited to see FELA! at The Ordway last night.
FELA! is a new musical directed and choreographed by Tony Award-winner Bill T. Jones, in which audiences are welcomed into the extravagant, decadent and rebellious world of Afro-beat legend Fela Anikulapo Kuti. Using his pioneering music (a blend of jazz, funk, and African rhythm and harmonies), FELA! explores Kuti’s controversial life as an artist, political activist and revolutionary musician. A three-time Tony Award winner in 2010, this production arrives at the Ordway direct from Broadway.
This musical takes “highly-energetic” to new levels. The cast and musicians use everything they have to move you literally and emotionally. In the beginning particularly, it was very difficult to sit in my seat. I really wanted to get up, dance and sing along. I know I wasn’t the only one as there were a few hands in the air at points and others were swaying in their seats. Luckily, they seem to be aware of this and there is a whole segment during which the audience is invited to stand up, dance and sing along. I typically despise crowd participation, but in this case, it is necessary and welcomed. It also helps advance the connection you have to the music and the movement, which is really at the heart of the story.
As one would expect from a Broadway cast, the talent is phenomenal. The voices of the singers are incredible and the acting is completely believable. And the dancing! The choreography and dance was also spectacular and the dance portions could have stood alone as a show in itself. It was a pure pleasure to watch these talented performers. Sahr Ngaujah played the role of Fela and I don’t know if I would ever see this show again without him at the lead because he was absolute perfection.
The stage and light design also really stand out. There’s nothing remarkable about the physical set itself, but it’s really just a backdrop for the visual effects projected onto it. I’m not sure if anyone goes to see a musical because of the lighting, but it was fantastic and truly spectacular. The beautiful light design added so much to the perceived production value.
You can get a taste of what this musical is about by watching the above video of the FELA! performance at the Tony Awards. I’m hesitant to post this video, however, as it doesn’t quite do it justice. To see FELA! live is really the only way to go. To feel the music resonating in your body and take in energy from the crowd (which was the most diverse group I’ve ever seen at the Ordway) really adds to much to the experience.
At the end, it took the audience only a half second to jump to a standing ovation. I was really impressed with FELA! and love that it came to St. Paul. FELA! is not touring nationally at this time. It’s only in St. Paul until June 17th and then the show moves back to Broadway. No other tour locations are scheduled at this time!
Shockingly, discount tickets are available through Goldstar. If you enjoy musicals, this is one you do not want to miss!