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2010 Tony Awards to Honor Broadway's Best

2010 Tony Awards to Honor Broadway's Best

The 64th annual Tony Awards will be held in New York City on Sunday. The ceremony honors Broadway's best productions.

What defines many of this year's nominees is music.

"Four Million Dollar Quartet" brings audiences to Sun Records in Memphis, Tennessee to witness the collaboration of Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins and Elvis Presley before they became famous.

The musical "Memphis" portrays the alliance of two unlikely musicians - a young, white disc jockey and a powerful, black jazz singer in 1950s racially segregated America.

Both "Memphis" and "Million Dollar Quartet" have been nominated for best musical among other distinctions.

"Fela!" has received 11 Tony Award nominations, ranging from best musical to best scenic design.

It is based on the story of Nigerian musician and activist Fela Kuti, whose Afrobeat rhythms are a combination of jazz, funk, salsa, calypso and traditional African music.

Lillias White plays Kuti's mother and is nominated for best featured actress.

"I was familiar with Kuti's music when I was in high school and college," she said. "He was a big star; all of his songs were big hits. I wasn't as familiar with his mother and her role as an activist."

White says Fela Kuti's mother was a women's rights activist, a teacher in Nigeria and a major influence on Kuti and his music.

"She was strict and stern, but she loved her country and loved helping people and teaching people and getting people to read," she said. "It's been a challenge playing her on stage."

Thwyla Tharp's "Come Fly Away" is nominated for best choreography. The musical is shaped around the sounds of Frank Sinatra. It depicts four couples as they fall in and out of love one evening at a nightclub.

The choreography mixes swing dancing and acrobatics with ballet. The dancers are strong and sharp, yet graceful in their movements.

One production that caused a stir this year is the musical "Enron." The story follows the former U.S. energy company Enron and the accounting fraud that lead to its demise. The scheme cost investors tens of billions of dollars.

The musical did exceedingly well in its initial run in London's West End theater district and it has been nominated for a Tony in three categories. But after only 15 performances, it closed.

Stephen Kunken played Enron's chief financial officer and is nominated for best featured actor.

"The play didn't just vilify these guys from Enron in a way that made it easy and digestible," he said. "I think that's the metareason why the play didn't find its audience quickly enough. The brass tacks reason is because it was very expensive."

The show's budget is estimated to have been between $4 and $5 million.

Related Report by VOA's Carolyn Weaver