Saturday, January 16, 2021
The Women Behind The Fela
By Brian W. Carter (Staff Writer)
Published December 16, 2011

Paulette Ivory as Sandra Izsadore with Sahr Ngaujah as Fela

Melanie Marshall as Funmilayo with Sahr Ngaujah as Fela


Multi-talented stage actresses Paulette Ivory and Melanie Marshall talk about hit play FELA!

Sentinel Staff Report

“Fela!,” presented by Shawn “Jay-Z” Carter and Will & Jada Pinkett-Smith, is based on the life of the charismatic Kuti and highlighted by many of Kuti’s most captivating songs.

It’s a triumphant tale of courage, passion and love. “Fela!” is the true story of Fela Kuti, who created a new type of music, Afrobeat, and mixed these pounding eclectic rhythms (a blend of jazz, funk and African rhythm and harmonies) with incendiary lyrics that openly attacked the corrupt and oppressive military dictatorships that have ruled Nigeria and much of Africa.  His songs of rebellion are an inspiration to millions.

Paulette Ivory and Melanie Marshall star in the energetic and compelling production portraying characters vital to the story.

Ivory comes with a long list of accomplishments from the stage to the television screen. Some of her credits include the role she created in The Lion King, Nala, Aida in Elton John/Disney’s AIDA for which she received the Helen Hayes Award for best lead actress.

Some of her other stage performances include Blues in the Night, Smokey Joe’s Café and The Hot Mikado among others. Her television credits include “Strong Medicine,” “Girlfriends,” and soap opera, “The Young and The Restless” to name a few. On top of all of this, she’s even enjoyed a number-one single in Japan with the band THINK TWICE on EMI.

Born and raised on the eastside of London, of Jamaican heritage, Ivory pursued theatre at a young age. Her mother, as she mentioned, was one of her biggest fans and plays a big role in her success.

Having a natural talent for the stage, it didn’t take much for Ivory to be noticed. Her talent took to the big stages where she gave performances that got her high acclaim. A hard worker and devoted to her craft, Ivory takes pride and joy in her performances.

“I love taking on different characters and finding out who they are,” said Ivory.

When asked which of her three talents she loves most, acting, singing or dancing, she replied, “I love it when I get to do all three, that’s when I’m my most happiest.”

“I was very lucky that I actually got to speak to [Sandra Izsadore], which never happens,” said Ivory. “That was like a dream come true for me. I was able to e-mail her and ask her direct questions about her experiences.”

Ivory portrays Izsadore, a member of the Black Panthers during the Civil Rights Movement. The character plays an integral part in giving the character Fela encouragement in opposing corruption in the Nigerian government.

“Basically, she’s the turning point for him [Fela] in his career when his direction completely changes,” said Ivory.

Marshall is another acclaimed stage actress, who comes with a list of her own accomplishments.

Some of her credits include Hot Mikado, Porgy and Bess, Fame, Ain’t Misbehavin’ and Kiss Me Kate to name a few. She also carries credits in television and film, which include Alice in Wonderland and The Wide Sargasso Sea. Marshall has also appeared with the Royal Philharmonic, Liverpool, the Halle and all the BBC Orchestras, and has performed in concert at Carnegie Hall and all major UK concert venues.

Marshall was born in Northwest England, of Barbadian descent, and received her education in London. Her career took off after she was asked to audition for a role in Carmen Jones.

“And that was it,” said Marshall. “I was hooked—totally hooked.”

When asked about theatre’s longevity and purpose, Marshall gave her opinion.

“It’s live,” said Marshall. “You never know what’s going to happen, you never know who’s going to be in the audience—you just never know what is going to happen.”

She has  done many performances, on many stages, in many highly acclaimed plays and productions. She describes her role in Fela has being totally different from past roles because it’s based off of a real person and their experiences.

“In the whole of the show, I am [Fela’s] voice of reason,” said Marshall. “I am that thing that’s happening on [his] shoulder.”

Marshall portrays Funmilayo, the mother of the Fela. She’s portrayed by Marshall as a strong woman and a source of power in Fela’s life.

“[She’s] a strict feminist, very stern, very politically aware,” said Marshall. She describes her, as she’s learn from hearing about the real Funmilayo, as someone who wanted to instill in her son all of her beliefs and all of her manifesto.”

Ivory compared “Fela!” to the occupy movement in its meaning and similarities. “Fela is about him standing up for what he believes in, fighting for a cause, for equality, for rights and against corruption in the government.”

“It’s educational, it’s powerful, it feels like it’s a revolutionary piece,” said Ivory. “The shows funny at times, it’s very moving.”

“It’s a very exciting show, a very wonderful show,” said Marshall. “It will get you tapping your feet,” said Marshall. “It might even get you shedding tears but at the end of it, you’ll come out having been thoroughly entertained.”

Single sale tickets are available NOW by calling CTG Audience Services at (213) 972-4400, in person at the CTG box office or online at For groups, please call (213) 972-7231, and for the deaf community, the information and charge number is TDD (213) 680-4017.

This article was contributed to by Brian W. Carter, Staff Writer.


Categories: Theater

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