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LONDON — “It’s a Hit!” is the name of a song from “Merrily We Roll Along,” and so the Stephen Sondheim/George Furth musical proved to be Friday in London, winning three top Laurence Olivier Awards, including best musical, 20 years after it was a fast Broadway flop.
Continuing the American theme, last summer’s Royal National Theater revival of Arthur Miller’s 1947 play “All My Sons” also loomed large at the lunchtime ceremony, taking four awards, including director for Howard Davies — his second Olivier in three years — and actress for Julie Walters.
The Donmar Warehouse “Merrily” bested competish from Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “The Beautiful Game” and the Cameron Mackintosh-produced “The Witches of Eastwick” to take the top prize, with further trophies going to two of its three leads — Daniel Evans and Samantha Spiro for musical actor and actress.
They joined the production’s well-reviewed Franklin, Julian Ovenden, to accept the ceremony’s final prize as a trio, since neither Sondheim nor Furth — nor director Michael Grandage — was present at the Lyceum Theater event.
“Merrily” closes as scheduled March 3 in the studio-size Donmar, where the limited run has been sold out for some time. The show’s supporters proved an especially vociferous section of the audience in what was the liveliest, most brisk and surprise-filled Olivier ceremony in memory.
The nod for musical production — an award distinct from that for new musical — went to the West Yorkshire Playhouse stage version of “Singin’ in the Rain,” which paid two separate visits to the National Theater.
National in the lead
As seems now habitually to be the case, the National Theater led proceedings overall, taking nine of the 22 awards for which the South Bank complex was nominated.
As expected, Joe Penhall’s “Blue/Orange” took best play. The National Theater production moves to the West End in April. But its two nominated actors, Chiwetel Ejiofor and Bill Nighy, lost out in the supporting category to Ben Daniels, for “All My Sons,” and in the leading actor category to Conleth Hill from “Stones in His Pockets.”
Hill’s victory was the biggest surprise of the day. The relative neophyte beat not just his own co-star, Sean Campion, but such heavyweight contenders as “The Caretaker’s” Michael Gambon and Simon Russell Beale’s already much-laureled Hamlet.
“The thing that pleasures me most is so many of you are going, ‘Who the fuck is that?’ ” said Hill, who accepted his prize via pre-recorded video from Toronto, where the Marie Jones comedy — itself an Olivier winner — has had a successful pre-Broadway run.
A clearly moved Hill accepted the trophy from colleague and fellow nominee Campion. (At the producers’ behest, Campion had led Hill to believe the two men were filming a promotional spot for the New York run — until Campion produced the statuette.)
“I share this totally with — what’s your name?” joked Hill, giving Campion a hug.
“Stones” opens its Broadway stand April 1 at the Golden Theater.
Accepting her prize for best comedy, Jones — the buoyant author of “Stones” — paid tribute to her three London producers. “I know no one likes producers,” she cracked, “but without them, I wouldn’t be here; there’s no doubt about it.” She then broke off to give thanks in Gaelic amid a ceremony rife with remarks from the podium in foreign tongues.
“Merrily’s” victorious Evans concluded his speech in his native Welsh, adding, “A translation pamphlet will be made available for the few people in the audience who don’t speak Welsh.”
Deborah Colker, Brazilian winner of the outstanding achievement in dance for her choreography of “Mix,” thanked her two children and five dogs amid a smattering of Portuguese.
Most remarkable of all was a member of France’s Compagnie Montalvo-Hervieu, which took the new dance production prize for “Le Jardin Io Io Ito Ito,”who took a large gulp from a bottle of water and proceeded to gargle exuberantly into the microphone.
In addition to Daniels from “All My Sons,” other award-winning supporting players were Pauline Flanagan from “Dolly’s West Kitchen” and, for supporting performance (male or female) in a musical, Miles Western, who played Miss West Coast in the short-lived West End entry “Pageant.”
The choreography prize went to Ann Reinking and the late Bob Fosse for the West End stand of “Fosse,” which closed last month. The prize was collected by that show’s leading lady, Nicola Hughes.
In the technical categories, lighting designer Hugh Vanstone — an Olivier winner two years ago for “The Blue Room” and “The Unexpected Man” — won a second time, again for two shows: “The Graduate” and “The Cherry Orchard.” Vanstone was unable to accept in person, as he is in New York working on the Broadway revival of “Follies.”
The set design prize went to “All My Sons’ ” William Dudley, who has twice won the costume prize, while this year’s costume recipient was Alison Chitty for the National’s “Remembrance of Things Past.”
Among the more notable losers were Jessica Lange for her much-acclaimed Mary Tyrone in “Long Day’s Journey Into Night” and Matthew Bourne for outstanding achievement in dance for “The Car Man.” The lavish revival of “The King and I” at the Palladium joined “Beautiful Game” and “Witches” among shows that went home empty-handed.
Still, unlike Broadway’s Tony Awards, which can make or break the success of a show, the Oliviers have yet to demonstrate any proven commercial impact in London. That, in turn, may explain the Olivier panelists’ repeated willingness to reward a dark-horse candidate rather than the obvious commercial choice.
The droll host was TV personality Clive Anderson (host of the British “Whose Line Is It Anyway?”). An edited version of the ceremony aired Saturday on BBC2, with Olivier organizers keen to stir up interest in some kind of American broadcast — however low-key — in future years.
“Merrily We Roll Along” — music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, book by George Furth, suggested by a play by George S Kaufman and Moss Hart
“Blue/Orange” — written by Joe Penhall
“Stones in his Pockets” — written by Marie Jones
“Singin’ in the Rain” — based on the MGM film, original choreography by Gene Kelly and Stanley Donen, screenplay and adaptation by Betty Comden and Adolph Green, songs by Nacio Herb Brown and Arthur Freed, West Yorkshire Playhouse at the Olivier
Howard Davies — “All My Sons”
ACTRESS IN A MUSICAL
Samantha Spiro — “Merrily We Roll Along” at the Donmar Warehouse
ACTOR IN A MUSICAL
Daniel Evans — “Merrily We Roll Along” at the Donmar Warehouse
ACTRESS IN A PLAY
Julie Walters — “All My Sons”
ACTOR IN A PLAY
Conleth Hill — “Stones in his Pockets”
SUPPORTING PERFORMANCE IN A MUSICAL
Miles Western — “Pageant” at the Vaudeville
SUPPORTING ACTRESS IN A PLAY
Pauline Flanagan — “Dolly West’s Kitchen”
SUPPORTING ACTOR IN A PLAY
Ben Daniels — “All My Sons”
Bob Fosse and Ann Reinking — “Fosse” at the Prince of Wales
William Dudley — “All My Sons”
Alison Chitty — “Remembrance of Things Past” at the Cottesloe
Hugh Vanstone — “The Cherry Orchard” and “The Graduate”
ACHIEVEMENT IN OPERA
Mark-Anthony Turnage (composer) and Amanda Holden (librettist) — “The Silver Tassie” (English National Opera)
“The Greek Passion” — The Royal Opera at the Royal Opera House
ACHIEVEMENT IN DANCE
Deborah Colker — her choreography of “Mix” at the Barbican
“Le Jardin Io Io Ito Ito” — Compagnie Montalvo-Hervieu, at the Barbica