Sultry musical “Cabaret” and fantastical literary adaptation “Life of Pi” were among the winners Sunday at British theater’s Olivier Awards, which returned with a live ceremony and a black-tie crowd after a three-year gap imposed by COVID-19.
The celebration of London theater, opera and dance came back to London’s Royal Albert Hall for the first time since the coronavirus pandemic shuttered Britain’s performance venues more than two years ago, weeks before the scheduled 2020 Oliviers show.
Kit Harington, Tom Felton, Emma Corrin and Jonathan Pryce were among the stars who walked the sustainable green carpet, made from reusable grass, before the glitzy, music-filled ceremony.
An intimate production of “Cabaret” that transformed London’s Playhouse Theater into the Kit Kat Club in 1930s Berlin had 11 nominations for the Oliviers, Britain’s equivalent of Broadway’s Tony Awards. Eddie Redmayne and Jessie Buckley are nominated in musical leading actor categories for their roles as the Emcee and Sally Bowles.
“Cabaret” director Rebecca Frecknall took the directing trophy, and said the war in Ukraine gave John Kander and Fred Ebb’s musical about the collapse of democracy and rise of fascism added poignancy.
“In a way it’s quite sad that every time it’s on it feels like it’s been written for today,” she said.
“Life of Pi,” adapted from Yann Martel’s Booker Prize-winning novel about a boy adrift at sea with a tiger, was named best new play. Hiran Abeysekera was named best actor in a play as title character Pi, while — in a first — the supporting actor prize went to seven performers who collectively play the show’s puppet tiger.
Fred Davis, one of the seven, said it was “a landmark moment for puppetry.”
Redmayne is up for best actor in a musical alongside Olly Dobson for “Back to the Future – The Musical;” Arinzé Kene for “Get Up Stand Up! The Bob Marley Musical;” and Robert Lindsay for “Anything Goes.”
Buckley is competing for best actress in a musical against Sutton Foster for “Anything Goes;” Beverly Knight for “The Drifters Girl;” and Stephanie McKeon for “Frozen.”
Knight said the theater community was ready to celebrate after a difficult couple of years.
“We have been bereft of theater for so long, just had nothing. And people only realize the importance of the place that theater and live entertainment played in any society when it was taken away,” she said.
“We bring in billions and that’s week in, week out. So we are part of giving the economy buoyancy, but more than that, we feed the nation’s soul,” she added.
The contenders for best new musical are “Back to the Future – The Musical;” “The Drifters Girl;” “Frozen;” “Get Up Stand Up! The Bob Marley Musical;” and “Moulin Rouge!”
The show also paid musical tribute to a theater titan — composer and lyricist Stephen Sondheim, who died last year at 91.
The last Oliviers ceremony, held largely remotely in October 2020, awarded work done before the British government ordered UK theaters to shut down in March 2020. Venues began reopening in mid-2021, and shows are largely up and running again, though the number of international visitors, vital to sustaining West End shows, remains well below pre-pandemic levels.
The awards were founded in 1976 and named for the late actor-director Laurence Olivier. Winners in most categories are chosen by a panel of stage professionals and theater-goers.
George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.