‘Fela!’ Star Adesola Osakalumi talks theater (INTERVIEW)
By Christion PetermanLike Fela Anikulapo-Kuti, the character he plays in the African-themed musical drama Fela!, Adesola Osakalumi is passionate about his work in the arts. The multi-talented actor and dancer made his way to the Broadway stage through rigorous preparation and hard work in stage productions like ‘Jam on the Groove,’ and ‘Equus.’ He has also appeared in small roles in films such as Sex and the City 2, Enchanted, and Idlewild.
Osakalumi is currently appearing as the alternate lead in the national tour of Fela!, the Tony award-winning biographical stage production about the life of the legendary Nigerian Afrobeat pioneer.
Blackactors.net caught up with the rising star for an exclusive chat about his journey to stardom.
You’re currently on tour in ‘Fela!’ How’s that going?
The tour is going well. Opening night was last night and I think the crowd really, really liked it. Everywhere the show goes, we get a really good reception. I think the more people who come to see, the more word of mouth gets around and the better it gets.
Where have you toured so far and what’s been the most exciting city?
Last March, we went to Lagos (Nigeria), which is Fela Kuti’s home town. That was incredible. We went to Amsterdam for about three weeks, and we were in London for about six weeks last year. We started the domestic tour in D.C., then went on to Chicago, San Francisco, Toronto, and Philly. We are now in Chicago. Wait a minute, we’re in Boston right now [laughs]. We’ll be in Maryland in two weeks, then we’re off to Houston and St. Paul. We’re going to take a break in the summer and then we’ll tour internationally again. So we’ve been to three continents so far; N. America, Africa, and Europe.
You play alternate lead Fela Anikulapo-Kuti. How do you pull of such a physically demanding role?
We definitely get tired, but you just keep on. I think the thing with the show is that Fela’s message was so timeless. The things he talked about; fighting against corruption, financial inequality between corporations and regular people. These things still go on. Everywhere we went last year, there was still the occupy movement going on. I think it was kind of timely that we were doing this show. He addressed issues 25 years ago that people are still dealing with today.
What’s been the best thing about this experience for you so far?
I would have to say being able to play Fela [Kuti]. As an actor, it’s the type of role that’s really a once in a lifetime role on stage. The show is about two and a half hours, and I’m on stage literally two hours and 15 minutes of that time. You sing, you dance, and you run the gamut of emotions–from coy to shy to angry to agressive to sensual. It’s one of those roles that you openly accept the challenge. Among all of the good things that have happened, just being able to play Fela and inhabit his energy for two and half hours.
You starred alongside Daniel Radcliff in the Broadway production of Equus. Did that experience prepare you for your role as Fela?
Equus was my first Broadway play. My background was in dance. So, Broadway wasn’t particularly something I was looking to do. When I got into the play, I saw the dedication to craft that all the actors embodied. Not just Daniel Radcliffe, but also Richard Griffiths. It taught me about how things were done through preparation and dedication. I really liked the immediacy of getting feedback from the audience every night. So when Fela! came along, I knew it was something I wanted to do and be apart of. I have a connection to Fela [Kuti] through my family. My family owned a record label called Makossa Records. It was the first label that distributed Fela’s music in America during the 1970s. I feel Equus prepared me for the rigor and discipline that Fela! would require. In Equus, I understudied one of the horse roles and I also danced. It was really, really taxing. Fela! is a whole different level of taxing. It taught me to be prepared, do the work, don’t take anything for granted, and be open to all of the ups and downs of the type of work that Broadway will demand of you.
Did you take acting lessons?
Yes, I studied for quite some time. Prior to Eqqus, I wanted to prepare in order to do the work. If you’re a ball player, you have to play all the time…including the off-season. It was the same with my preparation as an actor.
You’re a triple threat. You can act, dance and sing. What other talents do you have?
Good question. I’ve never been asked that. I love writing. At some point, I see myself being involved in that level.
Do you see writing in your future plans?
Yes, I definitely would love to share some stories that I have in my head. I would like to continue to grow as an actor and artist. I’m not predisposed to film, televison or theater in particular. But theater gives you that immediacy and film gives you that timelessness. I see film and tv at some point in the future. But Fela! is my main focus.
How did you land the role of the alternate Fela?
I had to audition [laughs]. When it was announced that the show would move from Off-Broadway to Broadway, everyone in New York City and the entire nation heard about it and wanted to take part in it. It was a lengthy audition process. There were a lot of people I knew in the waiting area at my first audition. I was in character throughout the whole audition process. I was in my accent from the moment I walked in. In my mind, I was already Fela Kuti. The first audition was just the casting director and me. I sang two songs and performed one scene. I got a call back for a second audition, and the entire creative team was in the room. Everyone from the choreographer and director Bill T. Jones to the band and the two lead producers were there. Sahr Ngaujah, who initiated the role off-Broadway was there. At my second audition, the band made a little mistake. I look back now and think it was probably done on purpose to see how I would react in that moment. I reacted as Fela Kuti would and started dissing them and everyone laughed. I had a third callback with three other actors. This final callback involved a lot of dancing. We were instructed to do the choreography and improvise towards the end. I had a waiting period and really, really, really hoped they would call. The stakes were really high.
What should people take away from Fela! once they see it?
People should relentlessly pursue what they believe in. Even in the face of opposition. People should take away the importance of work, struggles and sacrifice. Fela Kuti gave up a lot to maintain the life he lived in Nigeria. He could have easily left Lagos and signed a recording contract in America or Europe, but he chose to turn his back on that. He remained in Lagos as a man of the people. He remained for his people. People should also take away that art can change lives and bring us together.
If you could do a hologram performance with a dead performer, who would it be?
Wow! That’s deep. There are a few. Paul Robeson. Just a multi-talented, multi-disciplinary classical performer. And his vocal ability! The second would be Gregory Hines. My dance background isn’t tap, but Gregory Hines was an artist who was a triple threat. As a dancer, Gregory was open to all styles of movement. I had an opportunity to meet him when I was in a hip hop dance play called “Jam On The Groove.” He gave us so much love and so much appreciation for our artform.
What advice would you give black actors trying to make it on Broadway?
Be prepared and professional. Talent is a given. We all have our different levels and different strengths in terms of talent. Be prepared prior to rehearsal. Be off-book. Don’t be late! Don’t be late! Don’t be late! That’s a stereotype that exists for a reason [laughs]. Just work hard and try to always remember the love that you have for the work. Sometimes things happen over the course of a job that pulls you away from that excitement you had when you first auditioned. Just remember the joy and excitement you felt when you first got in. Referring back to that place will help keep things fresh, and will help you deal with the ups and downs.
Thank you for taking the time out to chat.
Thank you! I read the site a lot and I was really excited to be featured in the past. I hope to do more stuff in the future that you can write about.