The first thing you notice while sitting in the audience waiting on the play to start are the interestingly dressed young men who make their way through the aisles, looking at people and moving to the sounds of drums coming from the stage. And before you know it, you’re immersed in a world of drums, music, melodic singing, and oh, the dancing.
“FELA!” hits you like a rush of cold air, waking you up from your daily routine and plunging you into a world that is so different you marvel at how little you know about the world you live in. It’s a refreshing, engaging change that your spirit is ready for.
“FELA!” is the story of the hottest musician in Africa, Fela Kuti. As described by Wikipedia, he is a Nigerian multi-instrumentalist and composer, pioneer of Afrobeat music, human rights activist, and political maverick.
His songs of rebellion were an inspiration to millions. That being said, Fela played by Tony nominated actor Sahr Ngaujah sets about to educate the audience on just who he is and what he’s all about.
The delightful banter that is part of the production is engaging and fun. You instantly like Ngaujah as Fela as he sits on a stool and speaks to the audience, and actually demands a response from the audience which he enthusiastically receives.
Perhaps the most unexpected treat was teaching the audience about “the clock,” a form of dancing that simply mesmerized the audience. The audience, including myself, watched in amazement as the dancers moved body parts I didn’t know were that flexible. And they weren’t just moving or gyrating, they were dancing choreographed routines that had audiences on their feet.
While on their feet, the audience got a chance to learn how to do what the dancers did on stage, “the clock.” Only the hips I saw moving didn’t look anything like those on stage.
The international cast also features Ade Chike Torbert of Brooklyn, N.Y., who recently competed on Fox’s “So You Think You Can Dance,” season 7 where he became a top four finalist.
In FELA! Torbert is the “swing” dancer of the cast, and the new kid. This means he has to learn all the male dancers’ parts and be able to step in at any moment, and he got his chance on opening night. He says of the cast “you can kind of see the camaraderie and chemistry on stage, nothing is phoned in, and everything is 100 percent genuine. Amen to that brother!
All the music and lyrics featured in the play are Fela’s music, and it takes us on a political journey that begins in his homeland and travels to the USA in 1969.
While visiting Los Angeles, Fela discovered the Black Power Movement; Sandra, an African American woman, and the Black Panther movement. This meeting impacted his life and his music. That’s when this energetic production took on a whole new life.
Singer, actress and dancer Paulette Ivory stars as Sandra (Izsadore). The British-born, L.A.-based actress says she is having fun with her role as the strong and rather outspoken love interest of Fela. Ivory says she had the opportunity to befriend the real Sandra and learned how to be more like her on stage. Ivory says she told the producers “she was physical with him, we need to get physical,” and that’s when she started shoving Fela during the performance when trying to get a point across to him, a move traditional African women did not do.
As FELA! progresses, the production gets more intense. The music is still mind-blowing and the video that is intertwined throughout the story tells a chilling history of courage, outrage and passion. The audience is now invested in the characters, not only the leads but the ensemble as well.
FELA! is a wonderful experience you don’t want to miss. It’s an opportunity to learn and be entertained with music, song and dance that takes you to another place in time, and it will have you literally on your feet.
FELA! is now playing at the Ahmanson Theatre through Jan. 22. Located at 135 N. Grand Ave. in downtown Los Angeles. Tickets are available online at www.CenterTheatreGroup.org, in person at the CTG box office, or by phone at (213) 972-4400.