Following two sneak peek performances Sept. 8-9, Grammy Award winner Patti LaBelle officially steps into the role of Fela's mother, Funmilayo Anikulapo-Kuti, in Broadway's Fela! Sept. 14. LaBelle succeeds Tony winner Lillias White, who played her final performance Sept. 12. The acclaimed singer will stay with the production through its closing on Jan. 2, 2011.
"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," LaBelle said in a previous statement. "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."
LaBelle — who played Matron Mama Morton for a limited run in a Los Angeles stint of Chicago — is known for her Grammy Award-winning rhythm and blues songs, which include "On My Own" and "New Attitude." The one-time lead member of the group Labelle also sang on the group's biggest hit "Lady Marmalade." The singer has appeared on Broadway in three self-titled concerts and appeared in the 1982 revival of Your Arms Too Short to Box With God.
Fela!, the new musical based on the life and music of groundbreaking African composer, plays the Eugene O'Neill Theatre. After an acclaimed run Off-Broadway in 2008, Fela! began previews on Broadway Oct. 19, 2009. Sahr Ngaujah, who headlined the Off-Broadway premiere, alternates in the role of the late African musical figure, with Kevin Mambo (Ruined).
Tony-winning Spring Awakening choreographer Bill T. Jones directs and choreographs the production that features a book by Jones and Jim Lewis and utilizes Anikulapo-Kuti's own music. Lewis, a Tony nominee for Chronicle of a Death Foretold, also penned additional lyrics. The musical was conceived by Bill T. Jones, Jim Lewis and Stephen Hendel. The production incorporates the Afrobeat orchestra Antibalas and other members of the NYC Afrobeat community, under the direction of Aaron Johnson, who perform Kuti's music live onstage.
In Fela!, according to production notes, "audiences are welcomed into the extravagant, decadent and rebellious world of Afrobeat legend Fela Anikulapo Kuti. Using his pioneering music (a blend of jazz, funk and African rhythm and harmonies), [the musical] explores Kuti's controversial life as artist, political activist and revolutionary musician."
The design team includes scenic and costume designer Marina Draghici, lighting designer Rob Wierzel, sound designer Rob Kaplowitz and projection designer Peter Nigrini. Aaron Johnson and Jordan McLean will provide musical arrangements. The musical, which earned the 2008 Lucille Lortel honor for Best Musical, played an acclaimed engagement at the now-closed 37 Arts in 2008. 37 Arts was also the birthplace of the Tony-winning musical In the Heights.
Fela! is produced by Shawn "Jay-Z" Carter, Will & Jada Pinkett Smith, Ruth & Stephen Hendel, Roy Gabay, Edward Tyler Nahem, Slava Smolokowski, Chip Meyrelles/Ken Greiner, Steve Semlitz/Cathy Glazer, Daryl Roth/True Love Productions, Knitting Factory Entertainment and Susan Dietz. In association with Ahmir "?uestlove" Thompson. Fela! won three 2010 Tony Awards: Best Costume Design, Best Sound Design and Best Choreography. Visit FelaonBroadway.com.