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Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown

TSL in Hudson presents Fela! simulcast in HD, Derek Jacobi in King Lear

by Frances Marion Platt
January 20, 2011 12:16 PM | 0 0 comments | 16 16 recommendations | email to a friend | print
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Fela
It’s no exaggeration to say that there’s always something interesting going on at Time and Space, Limited (TSL) in Hudson these days. Check out the arts organization’s website at www.timeandspace.org and you’ll see what I mean.

In just one day – this Saturday, January 22 – you could arrive at 10 a.m. with your kids for a two-hour workshop on how to make moving toys; break for lunch, then come back and learn how to do polyphonic singing, which in Appalachian culture manifested as what is variously known as the sol/fa, shape-note or Sacred Harp tradition. Then, at 3:30 p.m., you could catch a documentary about a maverick fifth-grade teacher called A Touch of Greatness that incorporates some of the earliest film work of Robert Downey, Sr. Right after the discussion of that movie, at 5:30, you can segue into another: animator Bill Plympton’s Idiots and Angels. Or you could go have some dinner and come back at 7:30 for Kenneth Bowser’s acclaimed Phil Ochs biopic, There but for Fortune. It’s enough to make one wish for lousy weather conducive to a rich day indoors.

The big buzz at TSL in recent months, of course, has been the surprising popularity of its series of high-definition live simulcasts from the Metropolitan Opera. The arts center has apparently decided to run further with this concept, putting both musical and dramatic offerings from the UK National Theatre in London on the big screen in downtown Hudson. This Friday, a full house is just about guaranteed for Fela! the musical about the late world-music megastar Fela Anikulapo-Kuti that won three Tony Awards in 2010 before its recent move from Broadway to the West End, including one for Best Choreography by Bill T. Jones.

Fela, as he was universally known, was a complex and controversial personality. Few would begrudge him his crown as the founder of the genre known as Afrobeat, and many both in Africa and the West admired him as much for his persistent role as a thorn in the side of a succession of Nigerian dictators as for his music. A proponent of Pan-Africanism, he established a commune and studio that he called the Kalakuta Republic, claiming that it was outside the jurisdiction of the state, and tried unsuccessfully to get on the ballot as a presidential candidate in 1979. But he was also a bit of a megalomaniac in his own right, and alienated some erstwhile supporters by establishing a harem of dozens of chattel wives, claiming publicly that this was a perfectly legitimate way for an African to demonstrate his wealth and influence.

Such a feudal social stance seemed jarring, particularly to Westerners, in a man who had built his reputation as a champion of human rights; and it is ironic that Fela’s mother, who plays a key role in the play Fela! was herself known as a pioneering Nigerian feminist. The Broadway version of his life naturally glosses over the more unsavory aspects of the musical giant’s lifestyle, focusing instead on the drama surrounding the 1977 raid on the Kalakuta Republic compound by 1,000 Nigerian soldiers commanded by general Olusegun Obasanjo. In that incident – sparked by the issuance of Zombie, a record album critical of the government – the buildings were burned, all of Fela’s musical instruments and master tapes destroyed and his elderly mother fatally thrown from a window. Fela himself died of AIDS-related Kaposi’s sarcoma in 1997.

By all accounts, the musical Fela! is nonetheless stirring, upbeat and inspiring, and the musicians in the cast are said to include actual former members of Fela’s bands. The live HD broadcast of the show begins Friday, January 21 at 8 pm. Tickets are $22 and $15.

Another simulcast from the UK National Theatre is scheduled for 7 p.m. on Thursday, February 3 at TSL: Shakespeare’s most gut-wrenching tragedy, King Lear, starring sir Derek Jacobi. A protégé of sir Laurence Olivier, this brilliant British actor is probably best-known in America for his title roles in the hit BBC mini-series I, Claudius in the 1970s and Cadfael in the 1990s. But he also has practically every major dramatic role in the Shakespeare canon under his belt, and won a Tony as Benedick in Much Ado about Nothing at Lincoln Center in 1984 while simultaneously playing Cyrano de Bergerac in repertory. He portrays the Archbishop of Canterbury in the currently running film The King’s Speech, and at age 72, Sir Derek is finally old enough to play Lear without heavy makeup. This performance should certainly be worth the admission price of $22 and $15.

TSL is located at 434 Columbia Street in downtown Hudson in Columbia County. For reservations or more information call (518) 822-8448, e-mail fyi@timeandspace.org or visit http://timeandspace.org/ntlive.

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