Fela! the Broadway musical about ’70s Nigerian musician and political activist Fela Anikulapo-Kuti scored 11 Tony Award nominations to tie for lead with musical revival La Cage aux Folles. Fela! was a major gamble for producers Shawn “Jay-Z” Carter, and Will and Jada Pinkett Smith.
Both Carter and the Smiths joined the show as principal producers with Stephen Hendel and Roy Gabay. Fela! marks a significant departure from standard Broadway musicals, which tend to be conservative if not downright stodgy.
Directed and choreographed by Tony Award-winner Bill T. Jones with a book by Jim Lewis, Fela! explores the extravagant, decadent and rebellious world of the Afrobeat legend.
Kuti’s controversial life as artist, political activist and revolutionary musician is told using his pioneering music (a blend of jazz, funk and African rhythm and harmonies).
The show has been nominated for the following awards.
Best Musical, Best Actor (Sahr Ngaujah), Featured Actress (Lillias White), Director of a Musical (Bill T. Jones), Choreography (Bill T. Jones) and Book of a Musical (Bill T. Jones and Jim Lewis).
It was also nominated for Orchestrations (Aaron Johnson), Scenic Design of a Musical (Marina Draghici), Costume Design of a Musical (Marina Draghici), Lighting Design of a Musical (Robert Wierzel) and Sound Design of a Musical (Robert Kaplowitz).
The vibes were good from the outset. The usually jaded hometown press was ecstatic when the show debuted last November.
“There should be dancing in the streets. The hot (and seriously cool) energy that comes from the musical gospel preached by the title character of Fela! feels as if it could stretch easily to the borders of Manhattan and then across a river or two,” wrote New York Times columnist Ben Brantley.
“There has never been anything on Broadway like this production,” he gushed.
“There’s enough energy to short circuit Con Ed,” wrote The New York Post’s Elisabeth Vincentelli.
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