Theatre ReviewsTom Williams

Fela! A New Musical

Book by Jim Lewis & Bill T. JonesFela! A New Musical in chicago

Music & Lyrics by Fela Anikulapo-Kuti

Directed & Choreographed by Bill T. Jones

Produced by Broadway in Chicago

At the Oriental Theatre, Chicago

Fela! wears out it welcome as it plods on for 2 hours and 40 minutes

After about 25 minutes, Fela!, the musical story about the controversial Nigerian  singer/songwriter Kuti,  I felt that I was in a club in Lagos. The amazing music created by Kuti became know as Afrobeat as it mixed pounding rhythms (a blend of jazz, funk and African rhythm and harmonies) with heavy emphasis on bongo drums, saxophone and electric guitars.  Kuti or Fela as he was know filled his tunes with incendiary lyrics that openly attacked the corrupt and oppressive dictatorship that ruled Nigeria.

Fela! A New Musical

At first, I was enchanted with the pulsating rhythms of Fela’s music but after several extremely long songs, the music sounded to me like the same song being played over and  over again. They used super titles to show the lyrics of these songs – a good idea. But, when Sahr Ngaujah. as Fela,  spoke with his fast-talking heavy Nigerian accent, I could not understand much of what he was saying. That is a major flaw for my appreciation of the show. No wonder, Ngaujah had to work so hard to motivate the audience appreciation he was determined to get.

Fela! A New Musical

For me, Fela! wore out its welcome as the show turned in to one show-stopper after another that featured several quite long tunes that were so loud that they almost drove me from theatre.  Act one was one hour and twenty-five minutes!

The press notes state” “the Flea! is a triumphant tale of courage, passion and love,” but much of the action in act two that depicted Fela’s mother being tortured and killed by government troops got lost in my inability to understand Ngaujah’s dialogue. More super titles would serve this show well.

Fela! A New Musical

The sameness of the music and, while the choreography was energetic, sensual and complex, it also suffered from being recycled throughout the show.  The sheer manic nature of the show with the blaring music and the hypnotic rhythms drained me. I might have enjoyed the show more if it was trimmed by at least 40 minutes, used super titles, and turned down the volume a tad or two.  There might be a worthy story here that eluded me but I couldn’t tell.

I believe that Fela! is a curious African ethnic piece filled with haunting Nigerian music  that surly will arouse some with its story of the controversial Kuti. My appreciation was diluted but you may be enthralled with the energy and the haunting rhythms.

Somewhat Recommended

Tom Williams

Taalk Theatre in Chicago podcast

Date Reviewed: March 28, 2012

For more info checkout the Fela! page at

At the Oriental Theatre, 24 W. Randolph, Chicago, IL, call 800-775-2000,, tickets $25 – $90, Tuesdays at 7:30, Wednesdays at 2 & 7:30 pm, Thursdays & Fridays at 7:30 pm, Saturdays at 2 & 8 pm, Sundays at 2 & 7:30 pm, running time is 2 hours, 40 minutes with intermission, through April 15, 2012


Leave a Reply