“Fela!” at The Paramount

The Paramount is vibrating these days, vibrating with sound, color, and an incredible light display as “Fela!” takes over the stage. Directed and choreographed by Bill T. Jones, the musical’s first Broadway run resulted in 11 Tony nominations and three wins. The touring show has lost none of the production’s original electricity.

Energy, sensuality, and a powerful political message release as much emotion and passion in the audience as an old-fashioned revival meeting. From the very beginning patrons are encouraged—nay, forced—to get up and dance, shout out, sway. On opening night, they were brought to higher and higher levels of euphoria, responding ecstatically to the music.

Fela, now deceased, is a Nigerian folk hero as well as musician. Born into an educated family, sent away to England to study medicine, he studied music instead and, as composer as well as musician, melded jazz, funk, psychedelic rock, and African percussion into a form called Afrobeat. Yet Fela’s offensive against a brutal political dictatorship and the evils of corporate imperialism  in the 1970s also defined the man.

The military rulers of Nigeria at that time were more interested in self-aggrandizement than in human dignity, and Fela with his music became a powerful human rights activist. He sang in pigeon English so that all Africans could access the message. Expat Nigerians introduced Fela’s music and political ideology to enthusiasts around the globe. He and his family paid dearly for his activism, as this production makes eminently clear.

Although Fela died in 1997, his memory is alive and well in this feast of color, movement, and music. The costumes sizzle; the light show matches that of any concert stage; and there’s no way one can resist the energy of the band and dancers. As it is in most rock concerts, it’s extremely difficult to understand many of the words, but even without them, the message is clear, and the music couldn’t be hotter.

Through June 2 at the Paramount Theatre, 911 Pine St., Seattle, (877-784-4849, stgpresents.org).

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