Fela Review - Fela's Triumphant Messege of Freedom and Human Rights



From the fabulous dinner at the Music Center's Pinot Grill, to the star studded red carpet, and hundreds of theatre-goers enraptured with the performance; the hum of opening night at the Ahmanson always evokes a feeling of excitement. Opening night of 'Fela!' was no different.. If anything, it was even more exciting, as Sahr Ngaujah brought the audience to raise their voices and rise from their seats with his role as the controversial Nigerian activist and musician, Fela Anikulapo-Kuti.  Also a special treat was seeing the simply radiant Sandra Izadore (Fela's Real Life American collaborator, friend, and lover) come to the stage at the end of the show.


Since the show's opening in New York, producers of the show (including Jay-Z and Jada Pinkett Smith) have worked hard to bring clarity to Fela Anikulapo-Kuti's message in a venturesome way. And boy has the work paid off! Although the capacious Ahmanson is much roomier than the O'Neil in New York where the show originally opened, the entire cast brought so much energy to the stage that I found myself transported to a 1970s, smoke-filled, Nigerian club.  'Fela!' does not preach to the audience, but rather brings the audience into the story with incredible musicality full of Nigerian drums, horns, and rhythm led by the charismatic Ngaujah.  On top of the brilliant music, you've got these dancers who are just plain fierce.  Spoiler alert... in the beginning of the show, Sahr Ngaujah will "Break it Down" and teach the entire audience how to shake their derriere.  But, let me tell you.... No one can do it like the incredible dancers in the show who blend the perfect amount of hip gyrations with stunning moments of stillness.


Fela's story of the government destroying his family's compound, where many of his 27 wives were brutally beaten or raped and his mother was violently killed, is beautifully told through a flashback of a concert at The Shrine, a Lagos nightclub.  The compelling story evolves through demonstrations of upsetting film footage, images of newspaper stories, and language translations that have the ability to leave you squirming in your seat with anger over the wounded dignity of Fela's people.  But with that truthfulness, comes this marvelously energetic performance from the band, the ensemble, and most importantly from Sahr Ngaujah with his speech, his dancing, unbelievable saxophone skills, and overall control of the stage.
Opening nights are special, but this is a show that will capture the heart of every audience, at every performance.  Leaving the theatre, I felt as though everyone on the streets of Downtown Los Angeles should be dancing.  Not only do the beats of those drums stay with you long after the show, but Fela'smessage of freedom and of human rights bypassing censorship, the true message of the show, stays with you as well.
Center Theatre Group  
L.A.’s Theatre Company
Ahmanson Theatre  |  Mark Taper Forum  |  Kirk Douglas Theatre
601 West Temple St.  Los Angeles  CA 90012
213.972.7376    FAX: 213.972.7746   


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