Theatre Review: “Fela!” @ Eugene O’Neill Theatre, 01/16/10

Fela! is not a standard musical. It’s not even a non-standard musical. Frankly, I don’t think you can even call it a musical, because I feel that somehow diminishes what Fela! is. Yes, Fela! is on Broadway and I’m sure it will be nominated (maybe even win) a Tony Award for Best Musical, but I would call Fela! an experience, not a musical.

Energy. Power. Passion. Revolution.

Those are words that grace the cover of Fela!’s playbill. And that’s exactly what Fela! is: energetic, powerful, passionate and revolutionary.

In my Master’s, I took a class on African music. I wrote papers about lowlife vs. highlife and why/how African music is used in their daily life. The combination of music and dance is their story-telling. Even though I academically understood what African music is/was, I never fully understood the passion behind it all until I saw Fela!. The connection between the music, dance and story-telling is fierce – unlike anything I’ve ever seen on Broadway.

Fela! is creating a new audience base for Fela Anikulapo-Kuti’s music and it’s 100% successful. I’m totally hooked. The performance by Kevin Mambo (Fela Anikulapo-Kuti) was electric. At the beginning of the show, Fela welcomes us to the final concert at the Shrine in Lagos, Nigeria. It’s the summer of 1978, only six months after the death of Fela’s mother, Funmilayo – played by the incredible Lillias White. Fela invites the audience to become a part of the experience – responding with “Yeah, Yeahs” and dancing to the music. He even gives the audience a quick lesson on how to move your hips like a clock. You couldn’t not participate! The music was speaking to all of us.

I have to give it up to the ensemble members, all eighteen of them. Their passion was easily seen through their dancing and singing. There was so much joy on that stage!

The combination of music, lights, dancing, colorful costumes, story-telling and audience participation became a sensory overload.  Not only does it showcase Fela Kuti’s music, but the writers, Jim Lewis and Bill T. Jones, crafted a a story that was well-conceived and purposeful.

Prepare yourself for an experience unlike anything you’ve ever experienced.

Go. Now! Feel Fela’s passion, power and energy in this new revolutionary “musical”.

Fela! at the Eugene O’Neill Theatre

Show Dates:
Performances from 19 Oct 2009
Opening 23 Nov 2009
Closing Open-Ended

More info and buy tickets


12 thoughts on “Theatre Review: “Fela!” @ Eugene O’Neill Theatre, 01/16/10

  1. Great site, exactly what I was looking for, I can’t get your RSS feed to work right in google chrome though, is it on my end?

  2. I completely agree. I couldn’t stop dancing in my seat, and Fela’s story is one we should all know.

  3. Fela is simply “Felawful!” This pseudo biographical/politcal play with “music” fails to impress, elucidate, or move an educated audience on all fronts. Musically, it is overly simplistic, minimilistic, and repetitive. It is devoid of nuance, wit, and charm. There is nothing “new” about so called afro-beat, and one can hear musicians in the subway banging on garbage cans who do a far more credible job. Moreover, don’t expect to be singing a tune on the way out of the Eugene O’Neil, who is rollng over in his grave, Theater. There isn’t anything remotely melodic, harmonic, or musical to be found in the so called score.

    The show is likewise devoid of dancing. Not shake your ass around in a kind of afro Hokey Pokey, which is indeed imposed upon the audience in Act I, but real dancing performed by trained dancers. The lack of artistry is a result of a lack of choreography. Uncontrolled and random gesticulations are not dance. Rather it is something ferrel animals do in the wild, or at The Bronx Zoo, which happily provides far more entertainment for the price.

    Also, don’t look for a meaningful plot, because there isn’t any. Fela is more of a concert loosely tied together with haphazard and hollow vignettes. Because there is no book, there is no integration between music and libretto. In addition, the show glosses over important factual information, and does not engage the audience with Fela’s death resulting from AIDS. Instead, the show merely attempts to leave an “impression,” which indicates the creators did not want to do their homework regarding content. The residue is utterly meaningless, and disgracefully the essence of this fascinating performer and political activist is negated. As a result, the audience is denied any sense of authenticity, and subsequently any sense of authentic emotion. Indeed, the only thing I felt was an uncontrolled desire to leave, which many people justifiably did both before and during the intermission at the performance I attended.

    Perhaps the worst offense is the fact that Fela is overly loud. You can not understand anything anyone is saying because all you hear is boom, boom, boom, like a rude driver who turns his stereo to the max. Cognizant of this fact, the producers have opted to flash the unintelligible lyrics on a screen, but if you are sitting on side right of left of the stage, the screen is not fully visible. Because the show was amplified to the point of ad nauseum, I immediately went to RIte Aid after the show for Tylenol, ostensibly raising my already over priced ticket by another $3.99. To bad I didn’t stop there first for ear plugs.

    In all, Fela is a mess. It is an attack on all theatrical sensibilities. It is uncreative, unoriginal, and unsophisticated. Be warned, it is strictly for the uneducated masses and pseudo intellectuals. It is devoid of book, music, dance, and has no sense of theatrical artistry. It lacks genuine creative talent, and the untrained performers have little to work with which only augments their inabilities. Moreover, Fela defiles the honored and revered traditions of the Great White Way. Just because something is different, does not mean it is good, Fela fails because it does not live up to Broadway’s reputable caliber. As a result, Fela is nothing more than an overblown overhyped “Felop!”

  4. I’m trying to decide on discounted seating for the mezzanine, can any of you who’ve seen it comment on the layout of the theatre and whether mezzanine is a waste of time?

    Also, this strikes me as the kind of show where the audience is standing/dancing throughout most of the show. Is this accurate?



    1. Definitely sat throughout the entire show… only till the very end did we stand.

      I was sitting in the orchestra, so I can’t vouch for the mezzanine, but it doesn’t seem to be that big of a theatre so your seats shouldn’t be bad in the mezzanine.

    2. Don’t waste your money. This show is truly terrible! Worst thing I’ve ever seen, and YES I WALKED OUT ON IT!

    3. Danny,
      Don’t waste your money on this piece of garbage! The show has nothing to say and if you want to stand and dance, you can do it on the street for free.
      Simply put, Fela takes the title for the absolute worst piece of meaningless trash and dribble to ever disgrace the theater.

  5. Dear Sarah,
    So if you don’t like Fela, you are a racist. Really? How do you know I’m not Black? Maybe Fela is simply bad theater and you can’t accept that fact. That is why the show is an artistic and financial flop now slated to close. Sounds to me like YOU are the racist, for if someone doesn’t like an all Black musical that is terrible then you mistakenly label them a racist. SHAME ON YOU SARAH! Fela is a bad show, a horrible piece of trash. But that doesn’t make me a racist, just someone who knows good theater. Awaiting your apology.

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