That's certainly a decent run, and nothing to be ashamed of, but at about 14 months, it's probably not enough of a run to turn a profit. Granted, Wicked went into the black in that amount of time, but Wicked was running at full-price capacity. Fela has been running at a thoroughly respectable capacity of 85%, but at an average ticket of about $75.
So, all those A-list producers (Will Smith, Jada Pinkett Smith, and Jay-Z) most likely did have a positive effect on the show's box office, but not enough to push things into the profitability column.
But before the show folds up, the producers hope to go out with a diva-fueled bang. The fabulous Patti LaBelle will replace Tony winner Lillias White as Funmilayo, Fela's beloved mother, beginning September 14th and through the end of the show's Broadway run. LaBelle was originally only supposed to step in for White during her vacation, but LaBelle has since extended her run with the show.
Now, before you go booking your tickets expecting to see Patti LaBelle take over the stage of the Eugene O'Neill Theater, be forewarned: Funmilayo is a relatively minor role in the show. In fact, nearly every role other than the title role is minor. The story of Fela is told and sung almost entirely from Fela's point of view, which was one of the main problems I had with the show when I first saw at the now-moribund 37 Arts. (Read my review of the Off Broadway run.) I was pleased to see that the Broadway version actually gave some speaking lines to someone besides Fela, but I still found the storytelling rather inert. (Read my review of the Broadway production.)
To be sure, Funmilayo is an important role in the show, and she does sing on five of the show's 26 numbers. And a few of those songs are pivotal to the story. Just don't go expecting to see a Patti LaBelle concert. 'Sall I'm sayin'.
But, like the eponymous Fela Anikulapo Kuti, the show based upon his life will not fade quietly into the dark. The show is set to transfer to London, where it will enjoy a run at the storied National Theater, during which the show will be broadcast live to movie theaters around the world. One hopes that a DVD release will soon follow.
Yeah, I know. "Gee, Chris, I thought you didn't like the show." Actually, I genuinely appreciated what Fela was trying to do, even if I occasionally found fault with the execution. I fully support all efforts to stretch the musical theater form, and Fela's is definitely a story worth telling and retelling. Bill T. Jones has created some of his most vibrant and energetic choreography. And Sahr Ngaujah is unforgettable as Fela: dynamic, sexy, and passionate. So, I'll certainly be in a theater near me for the live cinecast. And I might even catch Fela again before it closes to see how La LaBelle fares on the Broadway stage.