Fela! is the first in a series of plays that I will blog about as a member of the Ordway Blogger Night panel.
Pre-Ramble: The title line from the musical Fela! aptly describes the fresh-from-Broadway production now running at Saint Paul’s Ordway Theater — beautiful, crazy, and powerful!
Fela! communicates the life story of Nigerian musician and political activist Fela Kuti. I use the word “communicate” here because the details of the storyline come out in an almost abstract way, embedded in a stunning swirl of color, movement, sound and light.
A handful of musicians gathered on stage provide a seamless background of narrative sounds — pounding beats, screaming jazz, and cool transitional runs. Intermingled with the sound, omnipresent dancers bring a spell-binding combination of athleticism and attitude … twirling, jiving and grinding in colorful African batik costumes ( … there were muscle groups going on that I am sure I don’t even have).
All this is grounded by main character and narrator, Kuti … a smooth, compressed mass of energy and passion. Joking wryly with the audience one minute, leaping and shouting the next, Kuti teases and coaxes us along on his journey from frenzied youthful wonder (at one point, we were up on our feet swaying and clapping to the beat as only a room full of Minnesotans can) to the anger and anguish that time would bring.
The Take-Away: Fela! is a beautiful and crazed mash-up of jubilance and intensity. Powerful. Exceptional. Wow.
Post-Note: What’s also powerful and exceptional is the concept of attending a live theater performance on a week night — total value add!!