The Royal Opera House in London’s Covent Garden was the setting for the 39th Laurence Olivier Awards. The star-studded event was hosted by Lenny Henry and sponsored by MasterCard, who rolled out the red carpet to welcome the great and the good from the West End theatre scene.
The ceremony opened with music from Katie Brayben and the company of Beautiful – The Carole King Musical, a show nominated for eight awards, including Best New Musical and Best Actress in a Musical. The only show to garner more nominations was Memphis, with nine – the most of any show, musical or play – also including Best New Musical. Joining these two in the race for overall Best Musical were Sunny Afternoon – inspired by The Kinks – and Here Lies Love, David Byrne and Fat Boy Slim’s retelling of the life of Imelda Marcos.
Before any musical categories were announced, former Pussycat Doll and Olivier nominee Nicole Sherzinger brought a little X Factor to proceedings by performing ‘Memory’, her solo number from Cats.
Then we saw the first musical win of the night, thanks to the White Light Award for Best Lighting Design category. Howard Harrison received the award for his lighting of City of Angels, earning the show the first of its two statuettes.
Sunny Afternoon, Beautiful and Memphis were all up for the next gong – Best Sound Design – with the prize going to Memphis’ Gareth Owen, who thanked his girlfriend for putting up with his “crazy schedule”.
The next performance came courtesy of a Kinks medley from Sunny Afternoon, after which the Best Costume category was announced. Memphis, Beautiful and City of Angels were all acknowledged by presenters Zandra Rhodes and Gok Wan, but all lost out to the sumptuous Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies.
Similarly unlucky were City of Angels and Made in Dagenham, both of which lost out to The Nether in the Best Set Design category. Bunny Christie’s spectacular sets for Dagenham were particularly impressive at the Adelphi, but Es Devlin’s work on The Nether was clearly rewarded for its innovation.
While not music related, it was a joy to see 90-year-old Dame Angela Lansbury win Best Supporting Actress for Blithe Spirit, getting a well-deserved cheer. She was “infinitely grateful” for the award, incredibly her first ever Olivier. “I’m feeling like a million dollars!”
To the rapturous sound of ‘Hockadoo!’, Killian Donnelly, Beverley Knight and the cast of Memphis raised the roof with their performance. And closing the first half was another musical treat, courtesy of Miss Saigon, a nominee for Best Revival and a showcase for Jon Jon Briones, nominee for Best Actor in a Musical.
Emma ‘Elphaba’ Hatton celebrated the Wicked win in the Audience Award category by greening-up and opening up the second half in fine voice. This award was voted for by viewers of ITV’s This Morning, and was presented by its presenters Eamonn Holmes and Ruth Langsford.
The next performance was from David Byrne and Natalie Mendoza, showing why Here Lies Love deserved its nominations for Outstanding Achievement in Music and Best New Musical.
The Memphis awards kept coming as choreographer Sergio Trujillo next accepted the prize for Best Choreography, beating off stiff competition from Beautiful, Here Lies Love and Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, which received its first nod of the night.
‘What You Don’t Know About Women’ from City of Angels was performed by the Donmar Warehouse company, before the award for Outstanding Achievement in Music was handed over to Ray Davies for Sunny Afternoon.
Next up was a performance of ‘Ain’t Necessarily So’ from the reunited company of The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess, which was up for Best Musical Revival.
Jamie Campbell Bower and Glee’s Dianna Agron announced the Best Supporting roles, with Best Supporting Actor going to George Maguire for Sunny Afternoon and Lorna Want for Beautiful.
Claire Sweeney presented the Magic Radio Best Musical Revival prize, which went to the Donmar’s much lauded City of Angels, denying Cats, Miss Saigon and Porgy and Bess the statuette.
Kimberley Walsh was up next to present Best Actor in a Musical. This went to Sunny Afternoon’s John Dagleish, who called himself a “newbie to musical theatre… an honour to be nominated alongside such incredible people”. The Best Actress award – presented by Brian May and Anita Dobson – went to Katie Brayben for Beautiful. “It’s a joy to tell Carole King’s story every night,” she said proudly.
Finally – well, not quite – Dame Angela returned to the stage to present the Best New Musical, which she handed over to The Kinks’ musical Sunny Afternoon, accepted by Joe Penhall who described the band’s songs as the “greatest music ever written”. While it grates somewhat that a jukebox musical should win such an award, no one can deny the success of a show that started off at the Hampstead Theatre before making it to the West End, where it may well serve out a long tenure, à la Thriller, Jersey Boys and Mamma Mia!
The ceremony closed with perhaps the best musical performance of the night – unexpectedly from honorary Brit Kevin Spacey. He took to the stage to accept a special award for his contribution to the UK stage and ended up throwing off his jacket and tie, whipping out a harmonica and treating us all to a rendition of ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’ with the help of Memphis star Beverley Knight. A suitably showbiz ending for the stage’s big night of the year.