The women dance onto the stage, hips keeping beat to African drums. A man in electric blue polyester urges the audience to sing "yeah, yeah." Within moments, people who never thought about Nigerian politics are hooked on "Fela!"
Such is the power of storytelling when it's done with amazing music, dance, acting and the spectacle that is Broadway.
The best of Broadway is on display Sunday, June 13, at the 64th Annual Tony Awards on CBS, airing live from Radio City Music Hall in New York. Sean Hayes, nominated for best leading actor in a musical for "Promises, Promises," hosts.
He's following Hugh Jackman, Matthew Broderick and Nathan Lane, who served as hosts when they were nominees.
As the line continues to blur among TV, film and stage actors, expect to see favorites from all three media. Hayes, best known as Jack from "Will & Grace," is pitted against fellow former sitcom star Kelsey Grammer ("Frasier") in "La Cage aux Folles."
Hayes plays Chuck Baxter, an ambitious low-level corporate drone used by his bosses, in the role Jack Lemmon made famous in "The Apartment."
"I didn't watch it on purpose," Hayes says of the 1960 movie that won five Oscars. "I didn't want to subtly take any creative ideas from the genius Jack Lemmon."
Hayes, dapper in a navy suit, glances around a press event the day after nominations were announced.
"I'm still kind of in shock," he says. "I did this to challenge myself. This is an unexpected byproduct of that."
Others, like Grammer, began onstage in 1981; this is his fourth Broadway show but his first nomination.
"It doesn't feel much different at all," he says. "New York theater is always New York theater. It's a great community."
"Fela!" -- a celebration of music and freedom -- takes this season's record with 11 Tony Award nominations. Fela Kuti was a Nigerian force of nature, an exceptionally talented and charismatic son of a feminist who fought colonial rule. He was radical enough to fight the government and talented enough to create a new form of music, Afrobeat.
"Fela!" unfolds inside his nightclub, called The Shrine. One of the actors playing him (in alternate shows), Sahr Ngaujah, nominated for best actor in a musical, is so soft-spoken and self-contained, it's difficult to believe this is the same man who commands the stage, plays a mean sax and brings an audience to its feet, cheering.
"This is quite exciting," Ngaujah says. "This is a new experience, for sure. It is my first time playing in New York."Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun