Archive for Bill T. Jones
Every Broadway show is a crapshoot. No one knows for sure what audiences will like and what they won’t. Still, the odds seemed higher than usual against the new musical Fela! Its score—a throbbing mix of jazz, funk and traditional African rhythms known as Afrobeat—is as far away from the show tune as Lagos is from Long Island. Its book—the life story of the controversial Nigerian musician and political activist Fela Anikulapo-Kuti—isn’t the usual Broadway fare either. And there are no celebrity names in the cast. But Fela! has turned out to be a winner.
You can tell that by the fact that it’s selling out about 95% of its seats while shows that seemed surer bets have been closing left and right. Or by the way the audience members literally dance in the aisles at the Eugene O’Neill Theatre, where the show seems likely to enjoy a good run. Or by the smile that spread across the face of my niece Jennifer, who is only 30 but has been going to Broadway shows for over 25 years and is as jaded as they come. As the show ended, Jennifer turned to me with a grin. “Yeah, yeah,” she said, nodding her head and pumping her fists in time to the music as she echoed Fela’s trademark exclamation of approval.
For despite its potentially downer subject matter (Fela is jailed, his wives—he was married to as many as 12 of them at a time in real life—tortured, his mom, their country’s leading feminist, is killed) Fela! may be the feel-good show of the season. The music, performed by the Brooklyn-based Afrobeat band Antibalas, is infectiously joyous, the dancing is amazing (a BIG shoutout to the tireless troupe of hip-shaking dancers), many of the jokes provoke belly laughs and the show plays into the fascination with Africa that is currently influencing fashion and art (click here to read a New York Times story about the trend).
I first saw Fela! when it played at the 37 Arts Theatre in the fall of 2008 and was wowed by it even though, at three hours, the show was waaaaay too long and its story more than a bit confusing. The credit for its now streamlined success has to go to Bill T. Jones, the Tony-winning choreographer for Spring Awakening, who not only conceived, directed and choreographed Fela! but hired Lillias White to sing the hell out of the songs given to Fela’s mother and persuaded the rapper-mogul Jay-Z and the movie star-moguls Will and Jada Pinkett Smith to invest in the show and lend their names to it as over-the-title producers. Jones has also promoted the show relentlessly (click just about anywhere on the internet, TV or radio to read or hear him give his spiel or click here ).
What I most loved when I saw the show at 37 Arts was the star-making performance by Sahr Ngaujah as Fela. As I said in my review back then (click here to read what I said) I couldn’t imagine anyone else in the role. Fela sings, dances and narrates the entire show (no one else even speaks). It’s an exhausting job. So Ngaujah now shares the role with Kevin Mambo. My heart sank when I saw the insert announcing that Mambo was playing the part the night Jennifer and I attended the show. But while it’s true that Mambo may not have Ngaujah’s charisma, he’s no slouch either.
The man sitting across the aisle from me rushed in just before the show began. He carried an expensive-looking brief case and wore an expensive-looking suit. I took him to be a lawyer or a lower-level, not-getting-quite-a-billion-dollars-bonus investment banker. He boogied at every opportunity (there are moments when the audience is invited to stand up and dance along) and even snuck in a few extra wiggles while in his seat. I wager that if you could find him and ask him, he’d say that Fela! offers as good a bet as they come, a fine return on your ticket-price investment.
Broadway & Me: news and reviews from a theater lover with a point of view.
Next to Normal Looking to Launch a National Tour
Brian Yorkey, the book writer and lyricist for Broadway’s Next to Normal, told Playbill.com, “A tour is in the works. David Stone’s at work putting it together. I think it will launch later this year, in the fall or winter.” In addition to a national tour here in the US, there is also apparently a group working on translating the show for a Scandinavian production.
Chicago Now Broadway’s 6th Longest Running Show
On Jan. 12, the Tony Award-winning revival of John Kander and Fred Ebb’s Chicago played its 5,462nd performance and became the sixth longest-running production in Broadway history, surpassing Beauty and the Beast, which previously held that position.
Finian’s Rainbow Cast Album Available Feb 2
The critically acclaimed revival of Finian’s Rainbow that just closed its doors on Broadway did have the chance to visit a recording studio before the death knells rang – capturing the beautiful voices of Kate Baldwin and Cheyenne Jackson singing some of the best songs in the Broadway musical cannon. Listen to a sample. The album is available for pre-order now.
Hair holding open casting
With nearly all of the original Broadway cast of Hair off to perform in the west-end transfer, producers are looking to cast a new group of Broadway hopefuls. Open auditions will take place from 10 AM-6 PM at the Public Theater on January 21. Actors are asked to prepare 16 bars of an up-tempo pop or rock song (with sheet music), and to bring a headshot and a resume.
Billy Elliot has Recouped its Investment
Producers of the Tony Award-winning Broadway musical Billy Elliot have announced that it has recouped its $18 million investment. The national tour of the show is set to launch in Chicago on March 18.
La Cage Aux Folles Artwork Revealed
An Obama Musical?
Yes. A company in Germany has created a show based on Obama’s rise to the Presidency. The title: HOPE. The video speaks for itself:
In the Heights
Janet Dacal (who originated Carla) and newcomer David Del Rio will be replacing Mandy Gonzalez (the current Nina) and Robin De Jesus (the current Sonny) when they leave Broadway’s In The Heights next month.
Andy Karl (9 to 5, Legally Blonde) will join the Broadway cast of Wicked beginning Feb. 2, succeeding Kevin Kern in the role of Fiyero. Katie Rose Clarke and Jenny Fellner stepped into the roles of Glinda and Nessarose, respectively, on Jan. 14.
Former Destiny’s Child member Michelle Williams (Aida) will replace Ashlee Simpson as Roxie Hart in Broadway’s Chicago beginning February 8.
On January 5, Laura Osnes (Grease, Bonnie & Clyde) returned to Broadway’s South Pacific taking over the role of Nellie Forbush from Kelli O’Hara.
The New York Post is reporting that Antonio Banderas (Nine) will be playing the title role in a Broadway production of the John Kander & Fred Ebb musical Zorba, to be directed by Gary Griffin (The Color Purple) and choreographed by Sergio Trujillo (Jersey Boys).
Mira Nair is working on a stage version of her film Monsoon Wedding hoping to make its Broadway debut a year from now. The show, co-written by Mira Nair and Sabrina Dhawan with music by Vishal Bharadwaj and choreography by Bill T. Jones, will combine circus acrobatics, aerial acting, theatre, music and dance.
Glee – Golden Globe, 2nd Season, Open Casting
The TV show Glee , which has featured show tunes and many Broadway actors, including Matthew Morrison (Hairspray, Light in the Piazza) and Lea Michele (Spring Awakening), took home the Golden Globe Award for Best Television Series (Comedy or Musical) and was picked up for a second season on Fox. Fans will be excited to hear that producers have announced casting for both professionals and amateurs ranging from ages 16-26. Are you enough of a gleek to make the show?
All About Me
Previews for All About Me, the Michael Feinstein and Dame Edna show, will begin Feb. 22, three days later than originally announced.
Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark
Also delayed, not so surprisingly, was Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark. The show, which producers had vehemently assured patrons would begin previews on Feb 25, will now be open sometime in 2010 – no specific dates have yet been announced.
Broadway on TV!
John Tartaglia (Shrek, Avenue Q) will appear on the February 3rd episode of Ugly Betty.
Catherine Zeta-Jones (A Little Night Music) will guest on “The Late Show with David Letterman” on Jan. 22.
Fela! opened on Broadway to fairly positive reviews yesterday, the show’s producers, Jay-Z, Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith, have brought some name recognition to a largely unknown and lively group of artists, most of whom transferred over from the Off-Broadway version of the show.
The critics all agree that Fela! offers up something new – though whether those audiences will love the offering or not is up for debate. Here’s what they said:
NEW YORK TIMES
Anyone who worried that Bill T. Jones’s singular, sensational show might lose its mojo in transferring to Broadway can relax. True, this kinetic portrait of Fela Anikulapo-Kuti, a Nigerian revolutionary of song, has taken on some starry producers — including Shawn Carter (Jay-Z) and Will and Jada Pinkett Smith — and shed 15 or 20 minutes since it was staged Off Broadway last year. But it has also acquired greater focus, clarity and intensity. In a season dominated by musical retreads and revivals, “Fela!,” which stars the excellent Sahr Ngaujah and Kevin Mambo (alternating in the title role), throbs with a stirring newness that is not to be confused with novelty. Read the full review.
The political messages do not detract from the terrific work by the cast, the overriding musicality and outstandingly sensuous dance performances. “Fela!” is a unique Broadway experience that leaves the audience on their feet and wanting more. Read the full review.
Fela!‘s choreography is … livelier and more sophisticated. Executed by a dynamic cast, it’s the perfect companion to Kuti’s supple tunes and pulsing grooves, served with virtuosity by a band conducted by Antibalas’ Aaron Johnson. Delivering exuberant storytelling through song and dance, Fela! achieves something closer to the essence of great musicals than many more conventional shows have of late. Read the full review.
Will the average Broadway matinee lady be comfortable participating in a practical demonstration of how to tell time with her ass? That’s exactly what takes place in “The Clock,” a particularly frisky sequence of “Fela!” in which the entire audience is on its feet learning from the able-bodied dance corps what Swiss-movement booty work is all about. And it’s just one of countless ways in which Bill T. Jones’ wildly loose-limbed journey into the throbbing heart of Afrobeat breaks bold new ground in musical theater. Read the full review.
The Shrine may have gotten a lot bigger, but the religion of Fela! has not grown less electrifying. Just over a year after Bill T. Jones and Jim Lewis’s musical about Nigerian Afrobeat pioneer Fela Anikulapo-Kuti had its cramped premiere Off-Broadway at 37 Arts, it’s now blasted into the Eugene O’Neill, where its creators – and its superstar producing team, which includes Jay-Z, Will Smith, and Smith’s wife Jada Pinkett Smith – are intent on proving that a bigger hall is just as apt a venue for its political-party aesthetic. They got it half right. Read the full review.