mon 22/04/2024

Love dies at Olivier Awards, but Smith, Sondheim, Lyttelton soar | reviews, news & interviews

Love dies at Olivier Awards, but Smith, Sondheim, Lyttelton soar

Love dies at Olivier Awards, but Smith, Sondheim, Lyttelton soar

Last night's theatre gongs favoured legal blondes and the National

Audience favourite: Sheridan Smith cops Best Actress in a Musical for Legally Blonde

The Andrew Lloyd Webber musical Love Never Dies emerged empty-handed at the 35th Laurence Olivier Awards, despite seven nominations, but it was a good night for Legally Blonde, Stephen Sondheim, and, so it seemed, pretty well any production lucky enough to play the National's Lyttelton auditorium.

And for American playwriting, too, with Clybourne Park following last year's The Mountaintop as a States-side effort that was named Best Play Sunday night at London's equivalent of the Tony Awards.

Indeed, Broadway's annual June pow-wow set a higher-than-usual bar for London's comparatively becalmed Oliviers, which this year were back in an actual theatre - Drury Lane, soon to host Shrek - after several years of being tucked away in the basement of one Park Lane hotel or another. The aim on this occasion: to put on a genuine show, packed out with stars and musical numbers and the sorts of inevitable plugs to remind onlookers that the phrase "show business" keeps one foot in those two camps. Hence, the lengthy plug midway through for The Phantom of the Opera, now 25 years old. Opera may be the operative word; the 2013 Oliviers are due to take place one street away at the Royal Opera House.

As for this year, it can't have been easy for Susan McFadden, the current Elle Woods in Legally Blonde, to lead a performance of that musical's title song even as her predecessor, Sheridan Smith, earned the warmest, most tumultuous applause of any of the winners for a production she left two months ago. On the other hand, had Smith not departed the Broadway export in January, she wouldn't have been free to do the newly opened Flare Path, in which she returns in award-worthy form, playing a former barmaid in Terence Rattigan's wonderful play.

RY_Olivier025If Smith was the popular winner of the night, there were the abundant surprises that have long characterised the Oliviers, which remain as quirky and unpredictable as the Oscars, Tonys, and the like have become boringly pro forma. Repeating her Evening Standard Theatre Award win from November, a very pregnant Nancy Carroll - baby due in 12 days, she reported - was named best actress in a play for After the Dance (pictured right: Carroll with Roger Allam, named best actor for Falstaff in Henry IV pts 1 and 2 at Shakespeare's Globe). The Lyttelton-spawned Rattigan revival earned four awards even as End of the Rainbow, with Tracie Bennett in scorching form as Judy Garland, went home with nothing.

The Donmar's defining autumn revival of Stephen Sondheim's Passion was passed over for musical revival by another Sondheim entry, Into the Woods, though cheers and cheers again to the Olivier panel for finally acknowledging the definitive performance of Passion leading man, David Thaxton, who took the musical actor category: the first time a Giorgio from that show has triumphed over his Fosca.

A special Olivier to Sondheim himself capped a 12-month period in which the octogenarian musical theatre legend has been fêted to high heaven on both sides of the Atlantic, though rarely with the effortless poise and panache of Angela Lansbury's rendition of "Liaisons", from A Little Night Music, in which the English-born Broadway mainstay appeared in New York last year. Backstage, the composer was careful to extend praise to the various British collaborators who have kept his work a vital part of the London theatre for many decades now, though, curiously, there was no mention of the Trevor Nunn-directed Follies that has been talked up for the Theatre Royal, Haymarket, as part of the Nunn season of work launched on a genuine high with Flare Path.

Elsewhere, it was nice to see Adam Cork win an Olivier for his sound design on King Lear, having last June won a Tony in New York for a separate Donmar entry, Red. And in a year that saw the usual volume of openings, it was fascinating to note a relatively narrow spectrum of winners, starting with After the Dance (four in all) and including Best Director Howard Davies's National Theatre staging of The White Guard (three) and Legally Blonde, also with three - not just for Smith and the musical itself but for co-star Jill Halfpenny.

During the ceremony, Adrian Lester sang - so did Barry Manilow, though in his case thankfully nothing from Sondheim - while co-presenters Michael Ball and Imelda Staunton exuded bonhomie and a blank-faced Rupert Everett introduced his imminent Pygmalion co-star Kara Tointon, her hair piled halfway to Ascot. But enough of this year, what about next, in a season in which musical contestants will include Betty Blue Eyes, The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, and Ghost (whose leading lady, Caissie Levy, was on hand as a presenter, her composer Dave Stewart by her side)?

I don't want to tempt fate, but I'd wager money now that none of those titles is going to have the impact of a show about a tiny yet tellingly self-possessed young girl gifted with special powers. If the 2011 Oliviers were largely about Elle Woods, look for next year's event to be ruled by a wee tyke by the name of Matilda.

List of Olivier award-winners

  • BEST ACTRESS Nancy Carroll for After the Dance at the Lyttelton (pictured below left, © Johan Persson)
  • BEST ACTOR Roger Allam for Henry IV, Parts 1 & 2 at Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre
  • BEST ACTRESS IN A SUPPORTING ROLE Michelle Terry for Tribes at the Jerwood Theatre Downstairs at the Royal Court
  • BEST ACTOR IN A SUPPORTING ROLE Adrian Scarborough for After the Dance at the Lyttelton
  • BEST NEW PLAY Clybourne Park by Bruce Norris at the Jerwood Theatre Downstairs at the Royal Court (pictured below centre, © Johan Persson)
Nancy_Carroll_After_the_Dance cJPerssonclybourne_park_cjohanperssonWhite_Guard_cCatherineAshmore
  • BEST MUSICAL REVIVAL Into the Woods at the Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre
  • BEST NEW MUSICAL Legally Blonde - the Musical, book by Heather Hach, music and lyrics by Laurence O’Keefe and Nell Benjamin at the Savoy
  • BEST ENTERTAINMENT The Railway Children by E Nesbit, adapted by Mike Kenny at the Waterloo Station Theatre
  • BEST ACTRESS IN A MUSICAL Sheridan Smith for Legally Blonde - the Musical at the Savoy
  • BEST ACTOR IN A MUSICAL David Thaxton for Passion at the Donmar Warehouse
  • BEST PERFORMANCE IN A SUPPORTING ROLE IN A MUSICAL Jill Halfpenny for Legally Blonde - the Musical at the Savoy
  • BEST DIRECTOR Howard Davies for The White Guard at the Lyttelton (pictured above right, © Catherine Ashmore)
  • BEST REVIVAL After the Dance directed by Thea Sharrock at the Lyttelton
  • BEST THEATRE CHOREOGRAPHER Leon Baugh for Sucker Punch at the Jerwood Theatre Downstairs at the Royal Court
  • BEST LIGHTING DESIGN The White Guard designed by Neil Austin at the Lyttelton
  • BEST SET DESIGN The White Guard designed by Bunny Christie at the Lyttelton
  • BEST COSTUME DESIGN After the Dance designed by Hildegard Bechtler at the Lyttelton
  • BEST SOUND DESIGN King Lear designed by Adam Cork at the Donmar Warehouse
  • OUTSTANDING ACHIEVEMENT IN AN AFFILIATE THEATRE Lyric Hammersmith for Blasted (pictured below, © Simon Kane/Lyric)
  • BEST NEW OPERA PRODUCTION OperaUpClose and Soho Theatre’s La Bohème at the Soho Theatre
  • OUTSTANDING ACHIEVEMENT IN OPERA Baritone Christian Gerhaher for his performance in the Royal Opera’s Tannhäuser at the Royal Opera House (picture above left, © Clive Barda/ROH)
  • BEST NEW DANCE PRODUCTION Babel (Words) by Eastman vzw and Royal Opera House La Monnaie at Sadler’s Wells, choreographed by Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui and Damien Jalet, at Sadler's Wells (pictured above centre, © Koen Broos/SWT)
  • OUTSTANDING ACHIEVEMENT IN DANCE Antony Gormley for his set design of Babel (Words) by Eastman vzw and Theatre Royal de la Monnaie at Sadler’s Wells

Read theartsdesk's guide to the major awards: 'Opinion: Awards - aren't you sick of them?'

During the ceremony, Adrian Lester sang - so did Barry Manilow, though in his case thankfully nothing from Sondheim

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Well, it just goes to show that you never can tell - and now I just don't care. Nancy Carroll is a wonderful actress and turned in a quietly devastating performance, but did I think about that play much afterwards? Hardly at all. And to rate Allam above Jacobi is absolutely bizarre. I suppose Jerusalems don't pop up every year, but are you telling me the merely entertaining Clybourne Park was the best new play? Bah humbug.

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