Saturday, January 30, 2010

Fela! Review

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.


chris said...

Fela was disappointing. For a character so memorable, the show is completely forgettable. The music is beyond simplistic, it could have been written by a teenager in a garage band. The libretto and staging is completely uninspired, and the loudness is merely an attempt to conceal the fact that Fela is devoid of content. I want my money back, as well as the hour I spent there. Like many audience members, I left this Felawful so-called show at intermission, and second-acted "Chicago" across the street. Therefore, the evening wasn't a total waste.

Anonymous said...

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 regarding 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 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 shows 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 sadly the essence of this fascinating performer and political activist is negated. As a result, the audience is denied any sense of authentic emotion. Indeed, the only thing I felt was an uncontrolled desire to leave, which many people did 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 unheard 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 music was so obnoxiously over amplified, I immediately went to RIte Aid after the show for Tylenol, ostensibly raising my already over priced ticket by another $3.99.

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. It is not good because it is different, it is not good because it
fails to live up to Broadway's reputable caliber. As a result, Fela is nothing more than an overblown hyped "Felop!"

Anonymous said...

One things for sure - neither of you are from Nigeria! I am and I just saw Fela. Furthermore I have been privileged to see him perform, I had met him and we are related by marriage. Just to clarify though, I was not one of his wives!
Reading your comments I am struck by how angry you sound and am left wondering why. One of you claims to have knowledge of Fela but do you really? Those lyrics you ridicule were written by him. If you know anything about African culture you would know our sayings are complex in their simplicity and that they always have deeper meanings. Also if you know about Fela you would know that his dancers did simply used to shake their asses. It is a talent and soething that people like Beyonce now incorporate into their dancing. The production was loud yes - so was Fela at the Shrine.
Why focus on his death? The show is set way before that. Why do we want to focus on that aspect when he was so much more! My final thought is if you want to be snooty about the essence of Broadway and all that bull then don't see Fela. Times are a changing! YOU shd hv done your research before going. The show is for fun people and not those who want to over think the message. Really, get over yourself

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