West Africa Story: Fela! on Broadway

A fantastic new musical will soon find out just how fantastic it has to be to survive

Though it's safe to say the Clock isn't going anywhere, the rest of Fela! is still at least somewhat in flux. Two days after my preview, the early second-act tune "Shuffering and Shmiling" is cut entirely, partly due to time concerns, partly because there were too many mellow tunes in a row coming out of intermission, and the sooner you get to "Zombie"—one of Fela's biggest hits, and here perhaps the biggest showcase for Jones's explosive choreography—the better. This last-minute futzing, though, is unlikely to affect the show's core exuberance. McLean recalls a friend's reaction after that press party: "She said, 'It doesn't look like they're pretending to have a good time.' Which I think is huge. 'Cause we went and saw—I'll name names—we went and saw Memphis, and I thought it was a really good quality, very quality performance. Very professional Broadway presentation. I feel like they were all pretending to have a good time. They were pretending—they were acting."

At its best, no one onstage at Fela! seems to be acting, including Fela. "Some people say I would never perform again," he crows at the onset. "But here we arrrrre." He doesn't mean "on Broadway," but he might as well. Later, at the show's conclusion: "Music is our weapon. We are going to be here tomorrow. And the day after that. We will be here forever." You want to believe him. So you do.

Sahr Ngaujah, as Fela
Photos by Chad Griffith; wardrobe: Sue Stepnik & Susie Ghebresillassie
Sahr Ngaujah, as Fela
Antibalas
Antibalas

rharvilla@villagevoice.com

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