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.