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Fela!

by Robert Abrams
August 17, 2010
Eugene O'Neill Theatre
230 West 49th Street
New York, NY 10036
www.FelaOnBroadway.com
Rachel Levin is writing the main review of Fela!, so I will limit myself to a few observations. I saw the show on August 4, 2010.

In general, I loved the show. I spent three months in Kenya after high school and studied Kiswahili for a year and a half in college, so I have an affinity for Africa. Fela!'s dancing was vibrant. The show made me want to learn more about African dance.

If Fela! had a problem, it was one in the embarrassment of riches category: there was so much going on on-stage that it was often hard to know where to look. Both the foregrounded main characters and the dancers in the background were worth one's full attention. I suppose an audience member could solve this problem by grafting a second head on his or her neck, but it would be simpler just to buy another ticket and see the show twice. (Broadway has gotten rather expensive, so perhaps the producers of Fela! could offer reduced price seats at off-peak times for repeat buyers?)

I also might have lowered the volume of the music a little to make it easier to hear the spoken and sung words, but this was a minor issue. For the most part, between the words and the visuals, the story was clear enough.

Fela, the historical figure, certainly came across as a person both interesting and worth studying. He was clearly a hero, but he proudly did things his own way, so some people are not going to regard him as a proper example. For instance, if you are offended by references to pot smoking, this may not be the show for you. On the other hand, if you can handle (or appreciate) art that is a little raw and plenty honest, I think you will be rewarded.

I value shows like Fela! because they make great dancing accessible to people who probably wouldn't attend a pure dance concert. If Fela! wanted to perform an additional service to the field of dance, and possibly sell more tickets in the process, I would suggest that they develop a dance show that builds upon the existing choreography. They could offer this extra show on a night that Fela! itself is dark, perhaps once per month. It would give the show's ensemble a chance to shine and experiment. It would also give Bill T. Jones, the choreographer as well as the director, a space in which to showcase to what extent his choreography is based on traditional African dance, and to what extent it reflects dance as found in Nigerian nightclubs. I think both dance concert aficionados and musical theater fans might be moved to buy tickets.



Read Rachel Levin's review of Fela!
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