The sound of afrobeat will cease to drum on Broadway when the musical Fela! closes on January 2, 2011, at the Eugene O'Neill Theatre. Beginning September 14, Grammy winner Patti LaBelle will take over the role of Funmilayo Anikulapo-Kuti, currently played by Lillias White, who will give her final performance in the role that won her a Tony nomination on September 12. LaBelle was initially scheduled to cover for White while she was on a brief leave of absense, but LaBelle will now perform through closing night.
"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 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."
In Fela!, which features a book by Jones and Jim Lewis, 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), in a hybrid of concert, dance and musical theater, the show explores Kuti's controversial life as artist, political activist and revolutionary musician.
Fela! opened on November 23, 2009, and received 11 Tony Award nominations including Best Musical, taking home Tonys for Jones' choreography and for the show's sound and costume design. A West End run is scheduled to begin at the National Theatre's Olivier Theatre beginning November 16 with original Broadway star Sahr Ngaujah.