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Posts Tagged ‘Fela’

What a season!  A superlative blend of four promising new musicals, three dynamite plays (and another really enjoyable one), and a play revival that reinvented what that play was about and another that had only excellent notices.  When it comes time to award this season, there simply aren’t enough trophies to go around.

Just a glorious season for Off-Broadway.

Oh, right, the Tony Awards are only for Broadway shows.  Yeah, that season was a letdown as a whole.  A few inspired performances and pieces, but as a composite, the NY Times’s two critics called it a B- season.  To me, its more along the lines of C+.  Barely-there books in the Musical category, Plays that sound better on paper than on stage, and revivals of a slate of classics that were generall more about competence than brilliance.

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I’d ballot in the morning.
I’d ballot in the evening.
All over this la-a-and.

Its Tony time again.  Nominations arrive on May 4 in the wee morning hours.  I was torn between writing this post on who I’d vote for this year, if I did indeed have a vote, or to write who I think will actually get nominated.  And, given that I am full of opinion, I was leaning towards just laying out my imaginary ballot.  But, alas, I’ve chosen to withhold my preferences until the esteemed official voting bloc does its thing.  Then I can complain loudly and proudly.

Looking over this year’s field, a trend I’ve noticed over the last few years has solidified into practice.  Two seasons ago, A Catered Affair reached Broadway.  It was an interpolation of an old Bette Davis-Ernest Borgnine-Debbie Reynolds film, spun by Harvey Fierstein and featuring strong performances from Faith Prince and Tom Wopat.  However, despite the obvious beauty of the show, it was clear watching it that it wasn’t quite baked.  It was rushed through development to get to Broadway.  It had its fans, but ultimately was overshadowed by long-developed shows In The Heights and Passing Strange, which both had extended Off-Broadway runs before facing off for Best Musical at the Tonys, along with also-well-developed Xanadu.  In The Heights took home the prize, and is the only new musical from that season still running.

Last year, the Best Play and Best Musical winners were both imports from Britain, God of Carnage and Billy Elliot, respectively.  In fact, both were well-loved shows across the pond before making their way here.  The development made them successful in both cities, and each easily dominated their category.  Carnage blew away very strong competition, challenge from Neil Labute’s Reasons To Be Pretty, Moises Kaufman’s 33 Variations, and Horton Foote’s Dividing The Estate.  Billy, however, faced no real challenge from its only major competition in the Off-Broadway transfer of Next To Normal.

This year, once again, the shows in contention for Best Musical are generally an imperfect bunch.  Addams Family is a morass of cut & paste.  All About Me wasn’t worth knowing.  American Idiot is a staged version of a punk album that doesn’t bother to name its female characters.  Burn the Floor was all smoke.  Come Fly Away does land enough.  Everyday Rapture should be the extinguished Special Event category, since it’s really a one-woman show.  Fela! doesn’t tell enough of Kuti’s story.  Memphis’s book completely falls apart in the second act.  Million Dollar Quartet is a stunt, aiming only at tourists’ wallets.  Each one could use some more development, but it’s no surprise the best two of the bunch (in my opinion) had Off-Broadway runs.  And the two best revivals are both British imports.  Once again, fully developed productions are few and far between.

Producers seem to be rushing shows to the big stage, rather than fully investing in a show’s development.  I read that Yank!, which I enjoyed, is coming up next season.  But, frankly, it’s not ready.  The second act needs work, and some of the songs need to be replaced.  Its simply too soon, despite a stellar performance from Bobby Steggert, for the show to make it to Broadway.

Bake it properly, and the show will rise well.  Take it out too soon, and it will fall.  Such has been the Broadway scene for the last few years.  Its economics, certainly, impacting the length of time an investor will wager on results, but the last few years have shown diminishing returns for those who don’t properly develop their shows.  And we all suffer when that happens.

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Fela Anikulapo Kuti was an amazing man.  Not everything he did was great, but his sheer effort, drive, and breathless talent made him an icon, both in the music industry as he popularized an afro-beat sound and in the Nigerian political movement.  He found more success in the former, but it was his leadership and visibility in his nation’s political struggle that made him a legend.

Fela was a fascinating person, and elements of his life are brought to the stage in the eponymous named Fela!  Deconstructed from a traditional music, the energy, excitement, and emotion you hope for from a musical are all up on the stage (and, at times, in the aisles).  There’s so much energy, in fact, there have been casting issues.  When the show ran Off-Broadway, there was only a single lead in the title role.  Transferring uptown, the producers decided that rather than wear out the lead, they would alternate actors.  There have been a few show cancellations due to actor injuries, likely based on the insane dancing that takes place.

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