The Show Must Go Off: "Fela" Biographer Sues Broadway Producers

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    NEWSLETTERS

    The cast of "Fela!" on Broadway.

    The author of a book about the late Afrobeat Nigerian superstar Fela Kuti sued the producers of the award-winning Broadway musical "Fela!" to stop performances Monday, saying they stole his work and thought an offer of $4,000 was all he deserved for copying entire portions of his book into the play's script.

    Lawyers for Charles Moore demanded in the lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Manhattan that the Broadway show, a production set to open next week in London and all other performances be blocked. The lawsuit also sought at least $5 million in damages and a halt to all advertising, promotions and product sales resulting from the show.

    Moore is the author of "Fela Fela: Cette Putain de Vie" and the copyright owner of its English translation, "Fela This Bitch of a Life," which the lawsuit maintains is the only authorized biography of composer, singer, musician and political activist Fela Anikulapo-Kuti, who died in 1997 at age 58.

    A spokesman for the show's producers, Richard Kornberg, said he was "really shocked at this turn of events" because Moore is on the show's website endorsing it and helping to publicize "how wonderful this production is."

    "So the idea he is now suing the production that a year ago he was praising seems weird to me," Kornberg said.

    "Fela!" tells the life story of the international music legend, who was known for his fight against corruption and injustice.

    The production has been promoted as being co-conceived and written by Tony Award winner Bill T. Jones and Jim Lewis with an emphasis on the energetic Afrobeat music Fela created in the 1960s by combining African sounds with a fusion of jazz, R&B, rock and soul music. It was nominated for a Tony Award as last year's best musical.

    The show captures the way Fela delivered his themes of human rights, anti-corruption and individual empowerment through his often-satirical lyrics and monologue during a nightclub act. Humor alternates with serious matters. Audience members are enticed to get up and follow Fela's directions to move their hips.

    The lawsuit maintains that the musical copies portions of Moore's book verbatim.

    "Entire portions were simply copied from Moore's book and inserted into the script of the musical," the lawsuit said.

    The lawsuit said the play copies many unique portions of Moore's book, including a fictional character Moore created — Afa Ojo, She Who Commands Rain — as a tribute to Fela's mother, whom Moore depicted in a voice of a ghost speaking to her son.

    According to the lawsuit, the book was published in 1982, a year after Fela contacted Moore and asked him to write his life story because he was convinced he was about to die.

    Moore agreed to write the book because of the deep friendship that developed between the men after they met in 1974, the lawsuit said. It added that Moore shared an understanding of Fela's spiritual beliefs based on his own knowledge of the Nigerian Yoruba-derived Santeria religion from his native Cuba.

    Fela gave Moore complete access to friends, family and personal files and submitted to more than 25 hours of recorded interviews, the lawsuit said.

    The lawsuit said Moore was first approached by representatives of the Broadway production in April 2007 and was subsequently offered $2,000 for the exclusive right to his book for the Broadway show and another $2,000 for the right to use his book in connection with any audiovisual production.

    The lawsuit said Moore's agent rejected the offer in September 2007, saying it was grossly insufficient and should include an advance and participation in the royalty pool.

    The theatrical production of "Fela!" debuted in July 2008, and Moore was invited in June 2009 and again in September 2009 to attend rehearsals and consult with the creators, the lawsuit said.

    It said that one of the dancers told him she had used the book to shape her character in the musical and that Jones told him he had used material from his book in developing the show.

    The lawsuit said Moore also was never compensated for a videotaped interview he did to support the show and that one of the play's producers told him in October 2009 that his book was "looked at" but there was no need to credit him or the book for playing any role in the development of the story line or characters.