When Fela says “everybody say yeah, yeah,” you had better say yeah, yeah. And when he tells you to stand up and dance, get ready to thrust your pelvis to the soul-tingling Afrobeat sounds of the Nigerian music legend. Fela’s going to tell you “the story ’bout how things are” and this is one experience you don’t want to miss.
The Tony Award-winning musical “Fela!” opens at the musician’s final performance at Afrika Shrine, a night club in Lagos, Nigeria. With the mosquitoes (cops) buzzing around outside, Fela Anikulapo-Kuti works the room into a joyful frenzied celebration of music and dance, with plenty of laughter in between.
While the party rages on, the tale of Fela’s evolution unfolds — from young musician whose influences included Chano Pozo and Frank Sinatra to political activist spurred on by the writings of Malcolm X and Angela Davis. But the real power of this experience is the slap-in-the-face dichotomy of the primal human connection of Fela’s music and the polarizing oppression he so vehemently opposed.
At times, the jarring contradiction is almost overwhelming. But Fela is, thankfully, portrayed quite realistically. While it’s impossible not to feel his pain when [spoiler alert!] his beloved mother is killed during a police raid, it’s equally impossible not to laugh when he proposes marriage to an entire group of women.
“Fela!” is a theatrical spectacle unlike anything you’ve ever seen. Bill T. Jones’ choreography is brilliantly conceived and masterfully executed, while Fela’s music reaches the depths of your soul and makes you want to move.
But the heart of this production is the extraordinary embodiment of Fela by Sahr Ngaujah. Performances of this caliber are indeed a rare, breathtaking treat.
Through May 6
Cutler Majestic Theatre
219 Tremont St. Boston