Patti LaBelle Joins FELA! Sept. 14 for Limited Run; Show to Close January 2
As BroadwayWorld previously speculated, producers Shawn "Jay-Z" Carter, Will & Jada Pinkett Smith, Ruth & Stephen Hendel and Roy Gabay will welcome Grammy Award-winning, multi-platinum recording artist Patti LaBelle to the cast of the hit Award-winning Broadway musical Fela! on Tuesday, September 14, when she takes over the role of Fela's mother (Funmilayo Anikulapo-Kuti) through Sunday, January 2, 2011, when the show will play its final scheduled performance. Tony Award-winner Lillias White (who received a 2010 Tony Nomination for her performance in this production) will play her final performance on September 12. Fela! received three 2010 Tony Awards, including Best Choreography, Best Costume Design and Best Sound Design. It is currently playing at Broadway's Eugene O'Neill Theatre (230 West 49th Street) where it opened to rave reviews on November 23.
"I am both thrilled and honored to be joining the cast of Fela! on Broadway. After seeing the show, I was struck by the choreography and work of Bill T. Jones, and the passion and joy that overflows from the stage. Fela's mother, Funmilayo, was a strong, truly inspiring woman and I am so privileged to be able to pay tribute to her on the Broadway stage." -Patti LaBelle
As previously announced, while the Broadway production of Fela! continues its history-making, groundbreaking run at the Eugene O'Neill Theatre, The Royal National Theatre in London will simultaneously present a limited run of the show - in repertory with Hamlet - beginning November 6. This marks the first time ever that the National Theatre has produced a show that's simultaneously running on Broadway.
Fela! is directed and choreographed by Tony Award-winner Bill T. Jones, with a book by Jim Lewis and Bill T. Jones. Sahr Ngaujah (2010 Tony Award-nominee for Best Actor in a Musical) and Kevin Mambo play the title character at alternate performances, while the world renowned Antibalas and other members of the NYC Afrobeat community, under the direction of AaRon Johnson, perform Kuti's rousing music live onstage. Fela! was conceived by Bill T. Jones, Jim Lewis and Stephen Hendel. Tickets for Fela! on Broadway are available through www.Telecharge.com, by calling (212) 239-6200 or in-person at The Eugene O'Neill Box Office, located at 230 West 49th Street.
Fela!, the true story of the legendary Nigerian musician Fela Kuti whose soulful Afrobeat rhythms ignited a generation, is a triumphant tale of courage, passion and love, featuring Kuti's captivating music and the visionary direction and choreography of Tony Award-winner Bill T. Jones. Inspired by his mother, a civil rights champion, Kuti defied a corrupt and oppressive military government and devoted his life and music to the struggle for freedom and human dignity.
Patti LaBelle (Funmilayo Anikulapo-Kuti). Beautiful, simply does not describe the incomparable force known to the world as Patti LaBelle. As time continues to evolve, the soulful songbird's name has become synonymous with grace, style, elegance and class. Belting out classic rhythm and blues renditions, pop standards and spiritual sonnets have created the unique platform of versatility that Ms. Patti is known and revered for. Last year, she reunited with Sarah Dash and Nona Hendryx for the first time in 30 years for the critically acclaimed Labelle reunion album, Back to Now. It's a small wonder that Patti has time for anything else in between recording and touring, but she makes time and the world is oh so happy that she does!
Patti has her own wig line, The Patti LaBelle Collection, and in November 2008, she released her fifth book and third cookbook, Recipes for The Good Life, and an instructional cooking DVD, In the Kitchen with Miss Patti. The cookbook features recipes and anecdotes that reflect Patti's philosophy that good cooking and the love of entertaining come from the heart. More recently, Patti introduced a line of signature sauces and marinades called Lady Marmalade and launched a designer bedding collection with Macy's, Patti LaBelle Home. In addition to her amazing career as an entertainer and entrepreneurial success, Ms. LaBelle's work as a humanitarian is just as legendary. She remains an advocate for adoption, foster care, Big Sisters and the United Negro College Fund, among many other initiatives. While Ms. LaBelle's celebrated career is respected world-wide, she has also endured and survived personal strife. Within a 10-year period, she lost her mother, three sisters and best friend to diabetes and cancer. In 1994, LaBelle was diagnosed with diabetes and shortly thereafter became a spokesperson for the American Diabetes Association. The same motivation that had Patricia Louise Holte blossom from a choir member to lead vocalist for Patti LaBelle & The Bluebelles and later Labelle, to a solo artist is the same energy that keeps her fire burning at sixty-six years young. "Each year I grow, and that's a blessing from God. I do what I can do. I do what I feel God has given me the energy to do, so I just go out there and I do it...It's not about making money because I don't need money, but I need to sing. With a voice or without, I've got to get on that stage." And the world is thankful that Ms. Patti's voice sounds so good to our ears.
Shawn "Jay-Z" Carter, Will & Jada Pinkett Smith, Ruth & Stephen Hendel, Roy Gabay, Sony Pictures Entertainment, Edward Tyler Nahem, Slava Smolokowski, Chip Meyrelles/Ken Greiner, Douglas G. Smith, Steve Semlitz/Cathy Glazer, Daryl Roth/True Love Productions, Susan Dietz/Mort Swinsky and Knitting Factory Entertainment, in association with Ahmir "Questlove" Thompson present Fela!, a new musical, based on the life of groundbreaking African composer, performer and activist Fela Anikulapo-Kuti, at the Eugene O'Neill Theatre (230 West 49th Street, between Broadway and 8th Avenue).
FELA! Performance Schedule
Tuesdays at 7pm, Wednesdays at 2pm & 8pm, Thursdays - Fridays at 8pm, Saturdays at 2pm & 8pm, Sundays at 3pm.
Tickets range from $27 - $127 (prices include a $2 Jujamcyn Theatre facility fee) and can be purchased online at www.Telecharge.com, by phone (212) 239-6200 or in-person at The Eugene O'Neill Box Office, located at 230 West 49th Street. For more information about Fela! please visit www.FelaOnBroadway.com.
Fela Ransome Kuti was born in Abeokuta, Nigeria, north of Lagos in 1938. His father was a Christian schoolmaster, minister and master pianist and his mother was a world-recognized feminist leader, who was very active in the anti-colonial Nigerian women's movement during the struggle for independence.
Fela was educated in Nigeria amongst the indigenous elite. Ironically, many of his classmates in his Nigerian school would become the very military leaders he so vociferously opposed.
With medical aspirations for their offspring (Fela's older brother, Koye, was to become a Deputy Director of the World Health Organization and his younger brother, Beko, President of the Nigerian Medical Association) in 1958 Fela's parents sent him to London for a medical education. Instead, he registered at Trinity College's school of music where he studied composition and chose the trumpet as his instrument. Quickly tiring of European composers, Fela, struck by MiLes Davis and Frank Sinatra, formed the Koola Lobitos in 1961, and his band became a fixture in London's club scene. Two years later, Fela returned to Nigeria, restarted the Koola Lobitos, and became influenced by James Brown. Trying to find an authentic musical voice, he added elements of traditional Yoruba, high life and jazz, and "Afrobeat" was born. In 1969, Fela's Koola Lobitos traveled to Los Angeles to tour and record. During his eight months in the US, with LA as a home base, Fela befriended Sandra Isidore, who introduced him to the writings and politics of Malcolm X, Eldridge Cleaver and other proponents of Black nationalism and Afrocentrism.
With this new politically explicit and critical worldview, Fela reformed the Koola Lobitos as Nigeria 70 and returned to Lagos. He founded a commune/recording studio called the Kalakuta Republic, complete with his own private nightclub, The Shrine, and Fela dropped his given middle name "Ransome," and replaced it with a Yoruba name "Anikulapo" (meaning "he who carries death in his pouch"). Playing constantly and recording at a ferocious pace, Fela and band (who were now called Africa 70) became huge stars in West Africa and beyond. His music served as a rallying cry for the disenfranchised, critiquing the military government, and made Fela not only a pop star but thrust him into political life. People took to the streets singing his songs and the military responded by viciously harassing Fela, jailing him and nearly killing him on several occasions.
In 1977, during a government-sanctioned attack on his Kalakuta Republic commune, Fela and other members of his commune were arrested; Fela himself suffered a fractured skull as well as other broKen Bones; a number of women living at Kalakuta were beaten and raped; and his 82-year old mother was thrown from an upstairs window, inflicting injuries that would later prove fatal. The soldiers set fire to the compound and prevented fire fighters from reaching the area. Fela's recording studio, all his master tapes and musical instruments and the only known copy of his self-financed film Black President were destroyed.
After the Kalakuta tragedy, Fela briefly lived in exile in Ghana, returning to Nigeria in 1978. A year later, he formed his own political party, MOP (Movement of the People) and ran for president in two elections, although his campaigning was consistently blocked by the military. As the '80s ended, Fela recorded blistering attacks against Nigeria's corrupt military government.
Fela Anikulapo-Kuti was arrested more than two hundred times in his life, and charged with almost every conceivable crime, although only serving one eighteen month sentence in jail for a currency violation. Despite this constant harassment he continued to live in Nigeria even though, as an icon in the international world of rock and roll, soul, jazz and hip-hop, he could have at any point abandoned Nigeria and led the life of an international music superstar. His death on August 3, 1997 of complications from AIDS deeply affected musicians and fans internationally, as a unique and ineffable musical and sociopolitical voice was lost. In Nigeria one million people attended his funeral. His incredible body of work, almost 70 albums, is now available, through public demand, all over the world.
Photo Credit: Walter McBride/Retna Ltd.