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NT Afro Musical Fela! Sued by Kuti Biographer

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The London transfer of the Tony Award-winning musical Fela!, which began previews at the National Theatre on Saturday (6 November 2010) prior to opening on 16 November 2010, is facing a challenge in a New York court after the author of a book about Fela Kuti, the Nigerian superstar on whom the show is based, claims producers stole his work.

Based on life of the Afrobeat legend, Fela!, plays the NT Olivier in rep with Rory Kinnear's Hamlet. It began life with a one-month, Off-Broadway run in 2008 before opening at Broadway's Eugene O'Neill Theatre in October 2009. Fronted by Obie Award-winner Sahr Ngaujah in the title role (alternating with Rolan Bell), the show marks the first time that the National has run a show simultaneously with a Broadway production.

Carlos Moore, author of Fela Fela: Cette Putain de Vie and the copyright owner of English translation, Fela: This Bitch of a Life has now started court proceedings against the show's American producers, claiming that the $4,000 they paid him for the rights to use his book were "grossly insufficient". Moore's authorised biography was first published in 1982 and reissued last year. Kuti, who studied classical music at Trinity College in London before returning to Lagos, died of Aids in 1997.

Lawyers acting on Moore's behalf have now started a lawsuit in the US District Court in Manhattan demanding that the Broadway production, which is currently taking bookings until 2 January 2011, as well as the production at the National Theatre, be blocked. Moore is also using the case to seek at least $5 million in damages.

Court filings state that Moore rejected the offer of $4,000 for the use of his work, instead demanding "an advance and participation in the show's royalty pool". The filings go on to say that playwright Jim Lewis and director Bill T Jones used his book to develop Fela! without his consent.

The National Theatre this morning (10 November 2010) said that the musical's American producers "were confident that they had all rights necessary" to present the show.

Fela! was produced on Broadway by rapper Shawn 'Jay-Z' Carter, movie star Will Smith and his wife Jada Pinkett Smith. The show is billed as "the most original new musical on Broadway ... a hybrid of concert dance and musical theatre". It features several of Kuti's best known songs including "Everything Scatter", "Water No Get Enemy" and "Zombie".


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