The Olivier Theatre Awards opened in rather regal style this year. The Royal Box was in service for the arrival of a very special guest, HRH Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall. The evening opened with the National Anthem suitably revamped with a West End makeover and majestic sweep. Beverly Knight of this realm took up position in a semi-choral circle of young performers from the Arts Education and raised the roof. The rendition was suitably ritzy and throaty and took the lid off the Royal Albert Hall. A rousing start to the 41st Oliviers, which celebrates the works of Britain’s world-class theatre industry.
In the past two years, the evening has been somewhat a tale of two juggernauts. In 2017 it was Harry Potter and then in 2018 sweeping all before it was Hamilton. This year saw a more even handed distribution of gongs. The three big winners of night were The Inheritance, Come Away and Company, which had the boost of the leading lady’s Leading Lady – Broadway legend – Patti LuPone
Standout moments included the rendition of River Deep Mountain High by Adrienne Warren, nominated as Best Actress in a Musical for her title role in Tina. The show also received a nomination for Mastercard Best New Musical.
Proof that we were in a world of world class performances, this was then edged off the top of the podium by a stunning performance by Sharon D Clarke who boomed out a song from Caroline, which held the room spellbound. A merited standing ovation followed as the room still reverberated from the power of this vocal performance, which pipped Ms Warren to the post for Best Actress in a Musical. Two powerhouse performances which underscored the quality of stars jostling for gongs.
And power was evident in the messages of two of the big winners. The Inheritance was a big winner, with its story of gay life post-AIDS. Stirring stuff. The monumental show won best new play and best director for Stephen Daldry.
Diversity was on show not least with presenting talent which most flamboyantly included Billy Elliot actor Layton Williams, the new lead in Jamie – best known as the campest in the classroom in TV comedy, Bad Education.
The other universal theme sharing the spotlight and the awards was the open heart of the little town of Gander which opened its hearts and its doors to diverted flights on the day of 911. The performance by the cast of Come From Away riveted the room and was a prelude to the show scooping four Oliviers including best new musical, outstanding achievement in music, and best choreography.
An even-handed evening which saw statuettes going to wonderful shows from across a very diverse spectrum. The evening came full circle when the lady honoured with the National Anthem walked onto the stage to present the honorary lifetime achievement award to dance maestro Matthew Bourne. Guests found out that he tied with none other than Judi Dench in pocketing the biggest number of Oliviers – eight. As the Duchess of Cornwall left the stage a flock of dancers took their positions to perform an excerpt of Swan Lake. No more powerful symbol of the progress of the 130 years in this world-famous venue opened was the proud prancing of this all-male troupe.
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