The critically acclaimed Broadway musical, Fela!, makes its return to Chicago for six performances at the Arie Crown Theatre this month.
After debuting in 2008, the theatrical production has won three Tony Awards and been seen by huge audiences including First Lady Michelle Obama. It remerges with former Destiny’s Child member Michelle Williams as activist and former love interest to Fela Kuti, Sandra Izsadore. It runs here February 19-23.
Directed and choreographed by Bill T. Jones, Fela! takes place at the height of revolutionary artist and creator of Afro-Beat, Fela Kuti’s, career. Mixing exotic rhythms, intoxicating dancing and a strong message of social justice, the play, also produced by Shawn “Jay-Z” Carter and Will and Jada Pinkett- Smith is running until the end of June in the states before heading overseas.
“This cast and the producers have been really respectful,” Michelle Williams told the Defender about her new venture. “I saw an interview with Femi Kuti and he said he wanted to cry because he couldn’t believe how exact the play was to his dad’s life.”
Williams, who is originally from Rockford, Ill. was cast to play Sandra Izsadore, who Fela credited as one of the most influential people in his life.
“I play the role of Sandra who comes on about 15 minutes into the show,” said Williams, who turned to gospel singing after Destiny’s Child disbanded. “And it’s just been amazing! It’s almost like you are in church. That type of dancing brings in the spirit. I felt like God was there and the spirit was sweet and calming yet powerful enough to knock me out but I couldn’t cry because I wasn’t’ sure if the makeup artist put on waterproof mascara!”
In her preparation for the role, Williams got some inside information from Sandra herself. She also revealed that Sandra, who will be in Chicago when the play returns, provided insight into the cast.
“I talked to Sandra and she told me to make sure I stay strong,” said Williams. “She comes to the shows and she’ll pull people to the side and tell them what they can do to be better because she was there so I’m like, I gotta be on my toes!”
Although her name is on the marquee, Williams said there is only one star of the show.
“This show has no stars except for Fela. We are all supporting (cast). My name might be on the bill but my role is no bigger than the dancers,” she explained.
Williams also divulged that her mission is to introduce more people to Fela.
“Two of my long time supporters came to the show and they loved how the story was seamlessly told through music. I’m hoping I can get more young people to hear his story and what he was so passionate about,” she said.
Coming off her performance at the Super Bowl, Williams also spoke about reuniting with her band mates.
“It was great to perform with my sisters during Super Bowl. We are blessed for the opportunity to perform before millions of viewers around the world!” said the petite diva who joined the group in 2000.
In addition to her Fela performance, Williams has a new album in the works. She’s recruited producer Harmony Samuels, who has worked with Chris Brown and Kelly Rowland. Although she doesn’t have a set date, she has about 11-12 songs completed and described it as a gospel album that will have some unexpected guest appearances
“I’m so excited about this album. The good and bad times I went through made for an amazing project,” she said. “I was introduced to (Brown) through Kelly. She thought we’d be amazing together and before I knew it, he had four songs and I thought they were dope. … God laid it on my heart to work with people outside of gospel because there are people in R&B that grew up in church like I did. And sometimes when its gospel, people might give you some dated music. We don’t have to sound like we are from the 1920s! Let’s sound fresh and hip!”
She’s also looking forward to performing here and inspiring another girl from her hometown.
“A lot of people don’t even know I’m from this area so I want people to know this is where I come from. And if a young girl from Rockford made it – who who was bullied, teased, and underdeveloped until high school – you can make it too!