Paulette Ivory didn't even know who Fela was when a friend of hers called her up and told her "There's a role with your name on it."
The British actress who'd done Lion King and been living in Los Angeles went to a meeting and signed on to FELA!, the three-time Tony Award winning project produced by Will and Jada Pinkett Smith and Shawn "Jay-Z Carter and Stephen and Ruth Hendel.
Now on national tour for more than a year and headed for Houston's Jones Hall in early June, Ivory has gone to city after city where there are people who know about the late Nigerian musician Fela Kuti who also became an activist in his country. And even though it is sent in the 1970s and in an African country, the story line has universal appeal, she says.
Because it's about standing up for what you believe in. One man standing up and fighting. People are always standing up for their own causes in their own lives. He did it even though he was beaten down regularly. Most people would give up," she says.
Oh and then there's the whole music and dance aspect of the production, she says.
"The music is so uplifting and energizing," she says. "Then we have these beautiful dancers."
A lot of what Fela was doing at the time didn't get out of the country, often stopped by the government because of his habit of getting in their faces. "But people did hear about him; Stevie Wonder, Paul McCartney, so he still managed to get a following," Ivory says.
Not that he was a saint, she makes clear. For one thing, he had 27 wives and "felt women were below men," Ivory says. But then he was introduced to the character Ivory plays, Sandra Isadore who was a member of the Black Panthers in the '70s, "and she was instrumental in changing his political views. She really pushed his buttons."
Ivory says actor Sahr Nguajah, who plays Fela "is just unbelievable in this role. Sahr really embodies who this man was. He has been doing for six to seven years. Doing that role every night is unbelievable."
FELA! presented by the Society for the Performing Arts will run June 5-10 at Jones Hall, 615 Louisiana Street. For tickets call 713-227-4772 or go to to Society For the Performing Arts website.