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Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Fela and Bill T. Jones Both Make Quite an Impression

So there I was last night at intermission of the first preview performance of the stand-up-and-shout Fela - the Tony Award-winning musical conceived, directed and choreographed by 2010 Kennedy Center honoree Bill T. Jones - when who should walk in front of me but Mr. Jones himself. He is incredibly friendly, taking congratulatory handshakes from some and advising others the best way to get in touch with him. I guess he is ironing out the kinks as the musical takes over the Harman Theater for the next month or so. But as long as long as Tony and Olivier Award nominee Sahr Ngaujah is center stage as Fela Kuti, the kinks are pretty negligible. Ngaujah has us at hello, or at least at "Say Yeah Yeah." When the first uninspired response comes back, he starts to go to work. The man can sing, dance, make us laugh, play the saxophone and trumpet, AND make the ladies swoon when he takes off his shirt. There are incredible dancers, musicians, singers and actors surrounding him, all adding to a night of utter enjoyment. It's a clever piece as well. (Jim Lewis wrote the book with Mr. Jones.) To bridge to a story about going to jail, Ngaujah asks the audience who has been to jail. It's a very funny episode that can swerve many even funnier ways depending on the response. (One pretty woman in the audience just waved her hands furiously to each question. Jail? Holding cell? Handcuffs? He had a good time with her.) That bridge adds much more than if they had just gone right into that story. A friend named Mark asked me at intermission if I had ever seen Fela himself at the 9:30 Club. Apparently, he performed there a couple times. He died in 1997, I believe. Unfortunately, I did not see him but after seeing this show - which centers on a place in Lagos, Nigeria called The Shrine - I sure wish I did. I highly recommend Fela. After the reviews come out, tickets will be scarce. So be quick. Rarely does Washington get to see a performer like Mr. Ngaujah - who took both London and New York by gale force. Don't miss out.

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