LaBelle joins ‘Fela!’

Musical to close in January

Broadway tuner “Fela!” will play out its final weeks with Patti LaBelle in the cast.

LaBelle joins the musical in September and will stay with the show until Jan. 2, when the production is now set to shutter. Addition of the high-profile music name, which may attract new auds to the show, betters the production’s odds of recouping before it closes.

LaBelle will portray the mother of the central character in the bio-tuner about the life of Nigerian activist and Afrobeat musician Fela Anikulapo Kuti. The thesp currently in the role, Lillias White, was nommed for a 2010 Tony for her perf.

Although “Fela!” won a slew of critical accolades when it opened in November and went on to score 11 Tony noms (winning three, including choreography), it never quite spiraled into a box office sensation. Production has earned about $20 million total since it began perfs Oct. 19, with the show reporting sales of $482,518 for the week ended Sunday, Aug. 8.

Among the marketing challenges for the production are its focus on a musician with a far higher

profile outside the U.S., as well as the looser, more experimental storytelling structure devised by the show’s creatives, including director-choreographer Bill T. Jones.

Soon before the musical opened on Broadway, Shawn “Jay-Z” Carter, Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith signed on as producers — and de facto high-profile supporters — of the show, joining a team of producers including Ruth Hendel, Stephen Hendel and Roy Gabay.

“Fela!” already has nailed down its first international incarnation, with a U.K. run at London’s National Theater set to begin Nov. 6. A U.S. national tour has been discussed for a launch in the latter half of 2011.

White will remain with the Broadway production through Sept. 12, with LaBelle stepping in Sept. 14.

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