Gypsy and Kinky Boots are big winners at WhatsOnStage Awards

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Gypsy was a big winner at the WhatsOnStage Awards with prizes going to actresses Imelda Staunton and Lara Pulver. Picture: Roy Tan

Every industry has its formal awards ceremony of choice. And then there is the less informal one, the young pretender that likes to be a little more carefree and wild. The WhatsOnStage Awards tend to fit into the latter category, although as they are now in their 16th year and have got successively glitzier on each occasion, they are now becoming part of the warp and weft of theatrical tradition.

This year’s ceremony was stymied slightly by Mel Giedroyc having to pull out at the last minute from reprising her co-host role with Steve Furst, the pair having led proceedings in 2015. This led Furst to announce a succession of guest co-hosts – Sarah Hadland, Janie Dee and Preeya Kalidas. The short notice with which they stepped in perhaps showed a little too much in places, and robbed Furst of the chance of building a rapport across the whole evening. Not only that, but of the three only Hadland really has the comedy background with which to hold her own against Furst’s sense of humour, making theirs the far more successful pairing of the evening.

As for Furst himself, his participation in a comedy number at the top of the show, riffing on the current state of theatre, didn’t quite have the effortless élan of a Neil Patrick Harris Tony Awards opening number, but its smaller scale and refusal to take itself too seriously paid off.

While the obvious function of such an evening is to hand out the relevant awards, the WhatsOnStage ceremony has always included a wide array of performances. The first of these (barring Furst’s intro) was a welcome reprise for Jenna Russell’s portrayal of Little Edie Bouvier, singing ‘The Revolutionary Costume For Today’ from the Southwark Playhouse’s recent production of Grey Gardens. A powerhouse of comic performance and well-observed mimicry, it serves as a great reminder (or a first glimpse, for the majority that did not get to see the production) of Russell’s superb work.

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Matt Henry won the Best Actor in a Musical award for his performance in Kinky Boots. Picture: Matt Crocket

The next performance was of a very different class – a slightly modernised take on ‘Moon River’ sung by Pixie Lott, who will shortly play Holly Golightly in Breakfast At Tiffany’s at Leicester’s Curve Theatre. It will, prior to a West End run, go on a short UK tour – as announced by Hadland with a script that gave a negative spin on such a thing. While that’s always disappointing to hear in a show that’s supposed to be celebrating all branches of theatre, for such a sneer to come directly after the presentation of the Best Regional Show (to the touring production of Mary Poppins) left a bitter taste in the mouth.

Similar duff notes were felt in the final musical number of Act I, after Steve Furst described Lady Gaga’s recent tribute to David Bowie as being “a bit end-of-the-pier”, before introducing a sequence of Gaga hits sung in a musical theatre style which epitomised all the clichés of musical theatre. The singing artists involved – most especially Alison Jiear – pulled off the arrangements well, but Nick Winston’s cheery, cheesy choreography, and the dancers’ costumes, felt ill at ease with the material. And a medley of hits from 2009 really felt out of place in a show dedicated to the best theatre of the year.

Act II kicked off with a performance which at least had a greater connection to the world of theatre – a quartet performance of ‘Something’s Coming’ from West Side Story from Stephen Ashfield, Laura Pitt-Pulford, Nadim Naaman and Anna O’Byrne. This laid the foundations for an act whose remaining numbers came from currently running shows, and all the stronger for that. Emma Williams and Tracie Bennett presented the two strongest songs from Mrs Henderson Presents, ‘If Mountains Were Easy to Climb’ and ‘Whatever Time I Have’. The former in particular is a charming song that works in this isolated context, in a way that perhaps emphasises its rather generic nature.

Matt Henry, who had previously won the title of Best Actor in a Musical for his role as Lola in Kinky Boots, returned to the stage to deliver a fierce rendition of the show’s torch song ‘Hold Me in Your Heart’, that showed just why his win was so deserved. Equally impressive was a performance by Lily Frazer and a large backing ensemble from In The Heights. Like the preceding songs, ‘Breathe’ is a beautiful ballad, enlivened this time by a glimpse of Drew McOnie’s understated, expressive choreography.

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David Bedella took the Best Supporting Actor in a Musical award for his role in In The Heights

Despite the strength of all these numbers, and their relevance to the theatrical world being celebrated, there remained a feeling that a few shifts in tempo, and a couple of upbeat numbers in the mix would not have hurt, and in fact could have kept the audience going through Furst’s ever loosening grip on his Emcee duties. The act of actually giving out the awards is rarely the most interesting part of any awards show, and it occasionally seemed to be the least organised part of the whole proceedings. What did enliven things, albeit unintentionally, was a marathon acceptance video from Benedict Cumberbatch, lasting well over six minutes. Whether it was a deliberate attempt to subvert expectations – at several points he seemed to be wrapping up, only to launch into a fresh new onslaught of thanks – or that nobody had the heart to tell him to keep to time, well who knows.

The concluding award, and performance, was dedicated to the Best West End Show prize. Accepting the award on behalf of Les Misérables, Cameron Mackintosh remarked on how happy he felt to be picking up a trophy for a show 30 years after it first opened, “without it being for best revival”. The show ended with the Les Mis cast storming the Prince of Wales stage for a typically barnstorming and celebratory rendition of ‘One Day More’. For an evening celebrating the current state of popular theatre, it was fitting that it was brought to a close by a show which received audience acclaim earlier than it did from most critics.

Scott Matthewman

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Les Misérables won Best West End Show

The 16th Annual WhatsOnStage Awards are the only major theatre prizes to be voted for entirely by the audience.

Hamlet and Gypsy led the awards with four victories each – Hamlet won for Benedict Cumberbatch in the Best Actor in a Play category, Best Play Revival, Best Set Design and Best Lighting Design with Gypsy picking up Best Actress in a Musical for Imelda Staunton, Best Supporting Actress in a Musical for Lara Pulver, Best Musical Revival and Best Direction.

Just behind Hamlet and Gypsy was Kinky Boots which received awards for Best New Musical, Best Actor in a Musical for Matt Henry, who also performed ‘Hold Me in Your Heart’ from Kinky Boots at the event, and Best Choreography.

Continuing the success of film to stage adaptations, the tour of Mary Poppins bagged Best Regional Production and Carrie the Musical at Southwark Playhouse took Best Off-West End Production, while the long-running Les Misérables beat off stiff competition to win Best West End Show.

Nicole Kidman was named Best Actress in a Play for her role in Photograph 51 which also picked up the award for Best New Play. In the other acting categories, Mark Gatiss received Best Supporting Actor in a Play for the second year running, David Bedella took Best Supporting Actor in a Musical for his role in In The Heights and Judi Dench won Best Supporting Actress in a Play for The Winter’s Tale, directed by Kenneth Branagh and Rob Ashford. Branagh himself was the recipient of the Equity Award for Services to Theatre.

FULL LIST OF NOMINEES AND WINNERS:

Best Actor in a Play:

• Benedict Cumberbatch, Hamlet

• James McAvoy, The Ruling Class

• Bradley Cooper, The Elephant Man

• Mark Rylance, Farinelli and the King

• Alex Hassell, Henry V

 

Best Actress in a Play:

• Nicole Kidman, Photograph 51

• Denise Gough, People, Places and Things

• Lia Williams, Oresteia

• Rosalie Craig, As You Like It

• Harriet Walter, Death of a Salesman

 

Matt Henry and the Angels in Kinky Boots at the Adelphi Theatre. Picture: Johan Persson

Matt Henry and the Angels in Kinky Boots at the Adelphi Theatre. Picture: Johan Persson

Best Actor in a Musical:

• Killian Donnelly, Kinky Boots

• Michael Ball, Mack and Mabel

• Matt Henry, Kinky Boots

• Sam Mackay, In The Heights

• Ben Forster, Elf the Musical

 

Best Actress in a Musical:

• Imelda Staunton, Gypsy

• Beverley Knight, Cats

• Kimberley Walsh, Elf the Musical

• Lily Frazer, In The Heights

• Katie Brayben, Beautiful: The Carole King Musical

 

Best Supporting Actor in a Play:

• Ciaran Hinds, Hamlet

• Mark Gatiss, Three Days in the Country

• Bertie Carvel, Bakkhai

• Johnny Flynn, Hangmen

• Kobna Holdbrook-Smith, Hamlet

 

Best Supporting Actress in a Play:

• Sian Brooke, Hamlet

• Anastasia Hille, Hamlet

• Imogen Doel, The Importance of Being Earnest

• Patsy Ferran, As You Like It

• Judi Dench, The Winter’s Tale

 

Best Supporting Actor in a Musical:

• Lucas Rush, American Idiot

• Alexis Gerred, American Idiot

• David Bedella, In The Heights

• Jack Edwards, Mack and Mabel

• Peter Davison, Gypsy

 

Best Supporting Actress in a Musical:

• Lara Pulver, Gypsy

• Jennie Dale, Elf the Musical

• Amy Lennox, Kinky Boots

• Lauren Samuels, Bend It Like Beckham

• Victoria Hamilton-Barritt, In The Heights

 

Best New Play:

Hangmen

Oppenheimer

Photograph 51

People, Places and Things

Farinelli and the King

 

Best New Musical:

Kinky Boots

Bend It Like Beckham

Elf the Musical

Beautiful

In The Heights

 

Best Play Revival:

Hamlet

The Importance of Being Earnest

The Ruling Class

Death of a Salesman

Oresteia

 

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Picture: Johan Persson

Best Musical Revival:

Gypsy

Cats

High Society

Mack and Mabel

American Idiot

 

Best Direction:

Hamlet, Lyndsey Turner

In The Heights, Luke Sheppard

American Idiot, Racky Plews

Kinky Boots, Jerry Mitchell

Gypsy, Jonathan Kent

 

Best Choreography:

Kinky Boots, Jerry Mitchell

In The Heights, Drew McOnie

High Society, Nathan M Wright

Gypsy, Stephen Mear

American Idiot, Racky Plews

 

Best Set Design:

Hamlet, Es Devlin

American Idiot, Sara Perks

Kinky Boots, David Rockwell

In The Heights, Takis

Gypsy, Anthony Ward

 

Best Lighting Design:

Hamlet, Jane Cox

In The Heights, Howard Hudson

American Idiot, Tim Deiling

Kinky Boots, Kenneth Posner

Gypsy, Mark Henderson

 

Best Off-West End Production:

Shock Treatment, King’s Head Theatre

Carrie the Musical, Southwark Playhouse

You Won’t Succeed on Broadway If You Don’t Have Any Jews, St James Theatre

Grand Hotel, Southwark Playhouse

Assassins, Menier Chocolate Factory

 

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Matt Lee and Zizi Strallen in the touring production of Mary Poppins. Picture: Johan Persson

Best Regional Production:

Mack and Mabel, Chichester Festival Theatre and tour

Mary Poppins, tour

Anything Goes, Sheffield Crucible and tour

Hairspray, tour

Henry V, RSC

 

Best West End Show:

Wicked

Les Misérables

Kinky Boots

Miss Saigon

Matilda

 

Equity Award for Services to Theatre:

• Kenneth Branagh

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