Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.
Fela (Sahr Ngaujah, who alternates with Adesola Osakalumi) used his musical innovationsincluding the creation of a new genre, Afrobeatin an effort to stand up on behalf of Africans against corrupt governments and the practice of multinational corporations of making money off the continent's resources without giving anything back. Although he was often harassed by those in power, attacked, arrested and jailed on false charges, and forced into exile, he continued the struggle until his death from AIDS in 1997.
Director-choreographer Bill T. Jones has staged the performance as a visit to Fela's club in Lagos, The Shrine, during his heyday in the late 1970s. Marina Draghici's scenic design and Robert Wierzel's lighting design use projections, vivid color, and sweeping beams of light to turn a 775-seat auditorium into a crowded, steaming nightclub.
Ngaujah originated the role of Fela in both the London and New York productions and now every move, every intonation, every shift of mood from rowdy to bawdy to impassioned and enraged, is second nature. That's not to say that any of it is automatic or phoned-in; he demonstrates his commitment with each word and note. As Fela's mother Funmilayo, a civil rights leader and her son's inspiration, Melanie Marshall is a majestic presence with a ringing voice.
The entire company brings to life Jones' vision, which can be summed up in a lyric (not one of Fela's, but certainly true to his philosophy): "Free your mind and your ass will follow." The emphasis on liberation comes through in both frenzied, though never uncontrolled, physical movement and a call for social justice.
Shakespeare Theatre Company
September 13th - October 9th