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"Fela!" and "Fences" lead the way in Tony noms

Linda Armstrong | 4/12/2011, 5:29 p.m.
"Fela!" and "Fences" lead the way in Tony noms

An African-American musical and play are leading the way in nominations for this year's 64th annual Tony Awards. That's right.

"Fela!," an exciting musical based on the life of Fela Kuti, the creator of Afrobeat, has 11 Tony nominations, tying it with "La Cage aux Folles." In the category of plays, "Fences," the late August Wilson's poignant story of a family's struggles in Pittsburgh in 1957, has 10 nominations. Two musicals--"Memphis" and "Ragtime"--that feature interracial themes and large, racially mixed casts, have eight and seven nominations, respectively.

And that's not where the African-American nominations end, with two plays--"Race" and "Superior Donuts"--receiving one nomination each for the performances by African-American cast members.

Let's start with "Fela!" This musical has so much exciting music, historical information and take-your-breath-away-dancing, it's no wonder it garnered so many nominations. In addition to watching the beautiful, sexy dancers shake their groove-things, you get to do it with them. You experience a whole new meaning to telling the time. (Those who have experienced this show know what I mean.)

This musical, produced by Jay-Z, Will and Jada Pinkett Smith, and Alicia Keyes among others, is up for Best Musical; Best Book of a Musical--Jim Lewis and Bill T. Jones; Best Direction of a Musical--Bill T. Jones; Best Choreography of a Musical--Bill T. Jones; Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Musical--Sahr Ngaujah; Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Musical--Lillias White; Best Scenic Design of a Musical--Marina Draghici; Best Costume Design of a Musical--Marina Dragnici; Best Lighting Design of a Musical--Robert Wierzel; Best Sound Design of a Musical--Robert Kaplowitz; and Best Orchestration of a Musical--Aaron Johnson.

"Fences," if you haven't seen it, is a must and when you see it, you will know why it has been nominated for 10 Tony Awards in the following categories: best revival of a play; Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Play--Denzel Washington; Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Play--Viola Davis; Best Performance by a Featured Actor in a Play--Stephen McKinley Henderson; Best Direction of a Play--Kenny Leon; Best Costume Design of a Play--Constanza Romero; Best Scenic Design of a Play--Santo Loquasto; Best Lighting Design of a Play--Brian MacDevitt; Best Sound Design of a Play--Acme Sound Partners; and Best Original Score Written for the Theatre--Branford Marsalis.

Every aspect of this production is phenomenal. It deserves to receive each Tony is has been nominated for.

"Memphis," a musical about a forbidden interracial relationship, received eight Tony nominations. This musical tells the story of a white DJ and, at first, his love for the talent of a Black singer and then his love for the singer herself--a love that was forbidden in Memphis in the '50s. The musical received the following nominations: Best Musical; Best Book of a Musical--Joe DiPietro; Best Original Score Written for the Theatre, Music--David Bryan, Lyrics--Joe DiPietr and David Bryan; Best Direction of a Musical--Christopher Ashley; Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Musical--Chad Kimball; Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Musical--Montego Glover; and Best Orchestration--Daryl Waters and David Bryan.

"Ragtime," a powerful musical about the racism that existed in this country decades ago, was given a stunning revival. It received seven Tony nominations: Best Revival of a Musical; Best Direction of a Musical--Marcia Milgrom Dodge; Best Performance by a Lead Actress in a Musical--Christiane Noll; Best Performance by a Featured Actor in a Musical--Bobby Steggert; Best Scenic Design of a Musical--Derek McLane; Best Costume Design of a Musical--Paul Tazewell; and best lighting design of a musical--Donald Holder.

In the plays "Race" and "Superior Donuts," African-American actors David Alan Grier and Jon Michael Hill, respectively, were nominated for Best Performance by a Featured Actor in a Play.

This year's Tony Awards will take place live at Radio City Music Hall on Sunday, June 13 from 8 to 11 p.m.