There’s a celebration going on at the Eugene O’Neill Theatre, where “Fela!,” Bill T. Jones’ paean to Nigerian icon Fela Kuti, lights up the theater in an explosion of rhythm, color and energy.
Structurally, “Fela!” is Kuti’s farewell concert, given after the death of his mother in the fire authorities set to Kalakuta, the compound where he lived with his “Queens,” his wives and backup singer/dancers. We learn of Fela’s life journey, including his ongoing hostilities with the Nigerian establishment and the inspirational sources — various African strains tinged with James Brown and jazz — of his trademark Afrobeat.
Sahr Ngaujah is charismatic and passionate as Fela (he alternates the role with Kevin Mambo), but the real star of the show is Jones’ dazzling choreography. Like Fela’s music, it’s authentically African but original, fearlessly exploring other genres. Unfortunately, as the show progresses “Fela” loses its ability to keep the fun in its pointed political commentary and only partly recaptures its high-flying spirit in the final number. Still, it’s quite a party overall, and what party doesn’t peter out a little before it ends?