I love it when shows surprise me when I leave with how much I enjoy them. This has happened with shows such as Working, and more recently American Idiot. But it’s fantastic leaving with that “show high” that comes so often (one should hope) after leaving the theater. Val and I usually have to hit up the bar for an 11 o’clock night cap to talk about what we just experienced and just to calm down our excitment.
Fela! was a nice surprise though in many respects. I got a Yelp message (which lately I don’t get many of) and it’s telling me about comp tickets to the opening night of Fela! at the Oriental Theater. So of course I jumped right on that! When we arrived we found that we had not only free tickets, but free orchestra level tickets?! I was prepared to hike it up to the balcony and instead just walked right in. Very nice!
The story I had to look up before we came. The only thing I had ever seen of Fela! was a performance on the 2010 Tonys when it was nominated for 11 Tonys, including Best Musical! And I knew that Will and Jada Pinkett-Smith’s names were attached to it in some fashion. So in looking it up online I learned of the real life activist and musician Fela Kuti and the turmoil he had to deal with just to make life in Nigeria a little better.
One thing I didn’t expect from this show was how interactive it was. Just 10 minutes into the production “Fela” tells us to all stand and then teaches us how to shake our hips to the music. Lots of hoopin’ and hollerin’ and hip shakin’ happened while actors ran up and down the aisles for encouragement! Fun and gets the mood set right away for the rest of the show.
Some notable parts, or should I say people, would be for one the fabulous Melanie Marshall playing Funmilayo. This woman could SING. Loud, soft, high note, low note. I was even amazed at the rolling of her “r’s” (something I could never master in French class) while singing. She was incredible, and after looking at the Playbill and seeing the training she’s had, it makes sense.
Now onto Fela “himself”. Sahr Ngaujah was the original Fela and is now touring with the production, which I read is something he didn’t want to do at first considering how taxing and emotional the show is to begin with, then you add the travel part! This man was the complete package ladies! He can sing, he can crack jokes, dance, play the saxaphone (while dancing) AND he’s hot with his shirt off. Sahr was perfectly cast for this role. The way he interacted with the audience was hilarious, and he shows the exact characteristics that one might think Fela Kuti had.
The set was incredible and the sound made the floors shake! There’s a scene with black lights that is eerie and gorgeous all at once! Paulette Ivory who played Sandra, also has a killer voice (and was the original Nala in London’s “The Lion King”!). Also, I loved the touch of the actors running up and down the aisles to created a scene (you are suppose to feel like your in the Shrine night club after all!) and behind us there were people occasionally clapping and hooting and hollering to create the scene all around the audience. Touches like this make me smile ear-to-ear at the theater.
This show extended its run in Chicago for the Spring Break season and I highly recommend everyone go see it – grab a discount code if you have to! I’m sure the sounds projects amazingly up in the balcony too it’s so loud! Enjoy and lemme hear ya say “Yeah-Yeah!”.