Afrobeating the Dictators in Fela!

In the new musical, two strong assets search for a more cogent context

Genial ease and steely tirelessness: Sahr Ngaujah as Fela Kuti
Monique Carboni
Genial ease and steely tirelessness: Sahr Ngaujah as Fela Kuti

Details

Fela!
Book by Jim Lewis and Bill T. Jones
Music and lyrics by Fela Anikulapo Kuti
37 Arts
450 West 37th Street, 212-307-7171

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In sum, Fela!'s power comes from its hero's commanding personality, from the brash good humor and bite of his songs, and from the joyous, free-spirited way they're performed. What's frustrating is that its story, the tale of a popular artist who used his art as a perpetual act of defiance against a mercilessly inhumane regime, never gets fully told. Fela's death is literally a footnote flashed on a screen in the midst of the finale; you never learn what he died of (AIDS, the existence of which he denied), how he lived with the military regime after choosing to stay and fight, or how that regime ultimately fell from power. More's the pity: With the Republicans noisily urging us toward a future in which America becomes a puny dictatorship dominated by militarism and greed, we could use a more cogent display of the example Fela set.

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