Thursday, January 27, 2011

London's 'FELA!' to stream live in Ann Arbor

Following the spectacular success of the Metropolitan Opera's live HD transmissions to cinemas, London's National Theatre has quietly developed its own international broadcast series, and Ann Arbor's Michigan Theater is drawing patrons to that big-screen stage.

In the second season of collaboration with Ann Arbor's University Musical Society, Michigan Theater will present an HD transmission of the Afro-beat musical "Fela!" on Sunday, then Shakespeare's "King Lear" on Feb. 20.

The splashy, colorful revue "Fela!" is based on the life of Nigerian composer-activist Fela Anikulapo Kuti and his struggle to prevent government soldiers from shutting down a legendary Lagos nightclub called The Shrine. The show's Broadway production received 11 Tony Award nominations in 2010, including Best Choreography by Bill T. Jones.

"King Lear" is the tragedy of a vain, aging monarch who retires from the throne and divides his kingdom among his three daughters in proportion to their flattering protestations of love, only to discover too late the cheapness of words and value of true affection.

The current National Theatre Live series winds up with playwright Danny Boyle's adaptation of "Frankenstein" on April 6 and Chekhov's "The Cherry Orchard" on July 17.

The National Theatre's HD series is the first electronic presentation in UMS' long history. UMS programming director Michael Kondziolka says the experience can only induce patrons to attend UMS' live theater events.

"I believe the HD productions deepen the engagement of an audience with these very well produced stage works," he says. "Early on, some people seemed to be afraid of this sort of electronic experience, as if it were not a real theater experience. But now patrons are urging us to offer the HD series again next year."

UMS handles promotion and ticket sales for the cinema productions, and Michigan Theater manages the logistics of linkup and screening.

Kondziolka says attendance has jumped from about 300 at the first presentation last season to nearly 900. Thus far, he says, ticket sales have covered costs. There's also plenty of room for growth. Michigan Theater seats 1,700.

"I have found it personally to be a very rewarding and exciting experience," says Kondziolka, "and it's my hope that National Theatre is in it for the long term. A project like this really needs three to five years to seed itself. We certainly intend to continue."


Related stories: Chiwetel Ejiofor cast as Fela

Hollywood making Fela movie 

FELA! on Broadway

Years after death, Fela nears mainstream appeal


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