It was not exactly a debut when Brooklyn native and current Bronx resident Adesola Osakalumi took his star turn as “Fela!” at the Al Hirschfeld Theater. “I’ve played Fela maybe 80, 90 times,” said Osakalumi, who starred both in the hit musical’s national touring company as well as understudied and alternated the lead role on Broadway. “I’ve played it a lot.”
The Columbia Preparatory School graduate paused on his way to the gym to talk about the rigors of playing Fela Anikulapo Kuti, the Nigerian musician, creator of Afropop musical style, and political activist who died in 1997.
“The first part of it is doing all the work we have to do to play the role; studying Fela, his music, his mannerisms, dialect, and accent,” Osakalumi said. “Then there is the physical work. This is the type of show that if you are not physically ready, it’s really apparent. I’m headed to the gym as soon as this interview is done.”
Aside from the signature music, the current show bears only passing resemblance to the 2011 Broadway show. The current cast also includes actors and musicians from the Broadway show, the national touring company, and the London company. Yet few of the actors could boast of having Osakalumi’s connection to Kuti and his music.
“Dance was always around me growing up,” he said. I started getting involved with the company, then took a slight left turn and started performing and choreographing.” Osakalumi danced in several movies, including “Idlewild” “Sex in the City 2” and “Marci X”, and was choreographed for Jack Black’s “School of Rock.”
“The demands it places on myself as Fela and on the dancers is awesome, but the mind and body can do incredible things if we let it”, he said.