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February 09, 2012 - Image 52

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 2012-02-09

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arts & entertainment

Bringing Fela! To Detroit

Musical about the life of the late Nigerian
singer-activist Fela Kuti comes to Music Hall.

Suzanne Chesser
Contributing Writer


dward Nahem has seen the musi-
cal Fela! more than 160 times and
is preparing to see it again.
A producer of the play — a sideline to
operating Edward Tyler Nahem Fine Art in
New York City — he will have a homecom-
ing of sorts during
the Detroit run, Feb.
14-March 4 at the
Music Hall Center
for the Performing
The Nahem
family lived in the
northwest area of
the city between
1959 and 1963,
when he attended
Edward Nahem
Bagley Elementary
School. This will be his second visit back; his
other was for a Bagley reunion.
"This show goes beyond entertainment':
says Nahem, 62, whose phone conversation
from New York described a 30-year admira-
tion for the focus of the play, Fela Anikulapo-
Kuti (or simply, Fela), and his music.
"There's a wonderful balance among
humor, irony and sadness in the show, and
part of the thrill is to sit in a theater and
watch other people being touched by some-
thing that is partly my responsibility
"After the play ends and people leave, they
seem to want to change a little in the world,
make it a little better. The play makes people
think a bit:'
The musical, featuring performers from




Nate Bloom
Special to the Jewish News

Grammys & More

Grammy Awards, for musical
At excellence,
airs at 8 p.m. Sunday,

Feb.12, on CBS. Presenters include

Gwyneth Paltrow, 39, and Drake, 25,

the superstar rapper.
2012 Jewish nominees in the mar-
quee categories include Ari Levine,
30, who co-produced and co-wrote
"Grenade" by Bruno
Mars. It's up for
Song and Record of
the Year, and Levine
also is nominated for
Producer of the Year.
Also: Adam Levine,
32, lead singer of
Maroon 5 and one
Ari Levine


February 9* 2012

the New York and London casts, captures a
short period in the life of Fela, who used his
big-band music to protest the excesses of suc-
cessive military regimes in his native Nigeria.
Fela, whose sounds came to be known as
Afrobeat, suffered through arrests and count-
less beatings for his political efforts.
"This is a show I want to keep delivering
to the world:' says Nahem, who involved
himself with the musical and its marketing
after learning it was in development.
"Feles music reaches out in a universal
story that can be embraced by people of all
backgrounds. The importance of learning to
stand up for individual beliefs speaks to our
plight as Jews. That's why we're still here."
Nahem joined the Fela! team after
approaching producers Stephen and Ruth
Hendel of New York, who recently received
the Louis B. Marshall Award from the Jewish
Theological Seminary. Although Ruth had
been involved in theater for some time, this
was the first stage project for Stephen, a com-
modities trader.
"I've probably seen Fela! several hundred
times' says Stephen Hendel, who thinks the
story represents the Jewish value of looking
out for one another.
"There's always something new to watch
in the play, whether its what a performer is
doing in developing a character or a nuance
in one of the lines.
"The issues that Fela wrote and sang
about and protested against in the 1970s are
the issues that we all confront today — cor-
ruption, misgovernment, greed, oppression."
Fela! is Nahem's second venture into pro-
duction. He had worked behind the scenes
on a movie about African singer Youssou

of the judges on NBC's singing com-
petition The Voice, is up for Best
Pop Performance by a Duo or Group
("Moves Like Jagger," with Christina
Aguilera). Nominated in the same cat-
egory are Tony Bennett and the late
Amy Winehouse ("Body and Soul").
Barbra Streisand's CD What Matters
Most is nominated for Best Traditional
Pop Album, and SNL's Andy
Samberg's longtime comedy trio, the
Lonely Island, is up for Best Comedy
CD for Turtleneck and Chain.
On Jan. 31, Old Ideas, a new CD by
legendary singer-songwriter Leonard
Cohen, 77, was released. Adam
Cohen, 39, Leonard's son, is also a
singer-songwriter. Last November,
Adam wrote on his website that his
mother (artist Suzanne Elrod) and
father had a bitter split when he was
about 5 years old and that his father

N'Dour, who is running for presi-
dent of Senegal and whose music
has been another longtime inter-
est of the art dealer.
"When I lived in Detroit, music
also was a big part of my life,' says
Nahem, whose family was active
with Adat Shalom Synagogue. "I've
been living in the spirit of that.
"Soon after my family left
Detroit, a friend sent me a letter
about Stevie Wonder [moving in
near him]. Almost 50 years later, I A scene from the Broadway production of Fela!
reached out to Stevie, and he came
to see Fela! He had visited Fela's shrine, and I
contemporary works shown in rotation at his
asked if he would meet the cast.
homes in the city and in the Hamptons.
"He came backstage and made an impas-
The pieces include original artwork from
sioned speech about what they're doing and
three Fela album covers by Lemi Ghariokwu,
its importance because Fela's music and
who is being represented in a display at
message were and are vital!'
the Charles H. Wright Museum of African
Nahem, whose dad ran a housewares and
American History. Complementing the musi-
electronics store Downtown, had a newspa-
cal is "Moving to His Own Beat — Fela: the
per route and summered in Charlevoix.
Man, the Movement, the Music Exhibit," on
"After some college, I spent a good num-
view through April 1.
ber of years as a kid of the '60s, wandering
"I've been in touch with friends from
and doing all the things that kids of that era
Detroit over Facebook," says Nahem, who fills
did," he says. "I was at Woodstock and lived
his free time with music, yoga and Yankees
in Israel for two years!'
games."I'm thinking about renting a car
While going back and forth to the United
while I'm in Detroit and going into the old
States, Nahem married and lived in Norway
for nearly a decade, operating a small gallery
in Oslo. He and his former wife have a son,
Fela! runs Feb.14-March 4 at
Joachim, who works in a development pro-
the Music Hall Center for the
gram for the United Nations.
Performing Arts, 350 Madison,
"With the gallery, there was a marriage
Detroit. Performances are at 8
of aesthetics and commerce that fascinated
p.m. Tuesdays-Fridays, 2 and 8
me',' he says.
p.m. Saturdays and 3 and 7:30 p.m.
After launching his art business in New
Sundays. $30-$100. (313) 887-8501;
York, Nahem built a personal collection of
www.felaonbroadway.com .

wasn't allowed on his
mother's property.
So, Leonard lived in
a trailer just off the
property for several
years, and Adam vis-
ited his father there.
Here is what Adam
Adam Cohen
said about those vis-
"In retrospect, every visit was
an education. He was there to pro-
tect values. It would be lighting the
Sabbath candles and learning Hebrew
prayers, singing songs, reading the
Bible. In the Jewish tradition, 'Cohen'
is the high priest. It's no accident my
father has a ministerial quality. As a
father, he still continues to feel like a
shepherd imparting an ancient under-

Short Takes

Tony Award winner Bebe Neuwirth
(Lilith on Cheers), 53, will be a guest
star on several episodes of The Good
Wife. She'll play Judge Friend, "a sexy
woman with a stern manner and little
patience for joking around."
Remember actor Bronson Pinchot
(born Bronson Poncharaysky), 52, who
co-starred on TV's Perfect Strangers?
Since 1999, he has been masterfully
restoring 19th-century buildings in
the small town of
Haverford, Penn.
The new six-episode
DIY cable show The

Bronson Pinchot
Project shows off his


work. It debuts at
10:30 p.m. Saturday,
Feb.11. ❑

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