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Shakin' to a revolution

By Dana Budzaj

Stomp your feet, raise your hands, and shake your hips as you enter the extravagant, decadent and rebellious world of artist, political activist, and revolutionary musician Fela Anikulapo Kuti, in the Broadway production of “FELA!”.

In the three-time Tony Award winning performance directed and choreographed by Bill T. Jones, “FELA!’ reveals by way of high-energy music, song, and dance, a portion of the true story behind one of the most inspirational leaders in the social movement against military governance in Nigeria the 1970s and 1980s.

Through a partnership between University Musical Society and Michigan Theater, “FELA!” broadcasts in high-definition directly from the National Theatre Live in London 2 p.m. Sunday, January 30 at Michigan Theater. Run Time: 3 hours, including pre-show and intermission features.

A supporter of freedom and human rights, Fela not only inspired change in the lives of his community, but also the international music scene through the creation of Afrobeat music- the lively genre he pioneered that fuses jazz, funk and psychedelic rock with African rhythm and harmonies.

The production of “FELA!” pairs this unique blend of music with the call-and-response of the chorus as it follows Fela in his pursuit of his purpose — to spread inspiration to a community in favor of change from oppression. The simple, yet figurative, lyrics of the Afrobeat music embody powerful messages filled with a sense of urgency that command the attention of the audience. Political messages play an important role in the music, along with messages to resist the pressures to reform, and stay true to one’s beliefs.

The show, comprised of 26 actors, dancers and musicians, has an elaborate set that consumes the stage and floods out into the seating of the audience. Vibrant and luminescent colors accompanied by imagery of Fela’s life through video projection and image stills, create a true depiction of his nightclub and gathering place, The Shrine, as the set comes alive and invites the audience in for an exciting night of entertainment.

Nominated for 11 Tony Awards, including, “Best Musical,” “FELA!” won awards for “Best Choreography,” by Bill T. Jones, “Best Sound Design,” and “Best Costume Design”.

The performance captures the creative spirit of Fela, and focuses on his accomplishment to inspire a nation by being true to himself. Fela devoted his life and music to battling the corruption in power, and the captivating nature of the music and dance of “FELA!” invites the audience to feel the emotions his story.

Dana Budzaj is an arts writer for Montage.