ATLANTA – Celebrities turned out in full force yesterday for the opening night of the return of the musical Fela! to Atlanta.
Stars such as rapper Ludacris, actress Jasmine Guy, comedian Rodney Perry, actress Demetria McKinney and the Real Housewives of Atlanta crew all graced the rep carpet alongside the youthful cast members of the non-stop, high energy show.
Fela! has returned for six performances at the Fox Theatre before heading to Schenectady, New York, as part of the 2013 national tour.
The multiple Tony-Award-winning show directed and choreographed by Bill T. Jones stars actors Adesola Osakalumi and Duain Richmond as Fela Kuti, Destiny’s Child star Michelle Williams as Sandra Izsadore, and Melanie Marshall as Fela’s mother Funmialayo. The musical has the financial backing of hip-hop mogul Jay-Z and power couple, Will Smith and Jada Pinkett-Smith.
Thursday night’s exhilarating show was a night to remember. The audience was mesmerized by the energetic dancers, dazzling band, and larger-than-life personality of singer and dancer Fela Kuti, performed by Duain Richmond.
“It’s a great opportunity for the younger generation to understand the music and life of Fela through a musical,” said Yetunde Orungbemi, a Nigerian native who was in the audience. Coincidently, Orungbemi’s aunt babysat for Kuti’s children.
Her only criticism is that, “The cast members could have perfected their Pidgin [English] and pronunciation of the Yoruba words a little more.”
The hit musical Fela! is based on the true story of Nigerian singer Fela Anikulapo-Kuti (1938 -1997), who created a musical style known as Afrobeat. It explores Kuti’s controversial life as an artist, musician, political maverick and human rights activist. He died of AIDS in Lagos at 58.
For those unfamiliar with Kuti’s music, he was to Africa what Bob Marley was to Jamaica or Malcolm X to America. His provocative lyrics condemned the then-corrupt Nigerian military governments and also criticized Western interference in African politics.
Singing in mainly in Pidgin English as well as colloquial English and occasionally in Yoruba, Kuti’s lyrics railed against greedy leaders and inspired political activists in Nigeria and across the continent.
Back in Nigeria he was most well-known for his attack of the military through songs like “Unknown Soldier,” his criticism of western and Nigerian governments in “Teacher Don’t Teach Me Nonsense” or “Yellow Fever,” which makes a scathing attack on skin bleaching.
Fela!’s six performances at the Fox Theatre will run through March 3rd.
Follow Kunbi Tinuoye on Twitter at @Kunbiti