Wins prizes for 3 prod'ns; 'Elliot' top tuner

While top tuner honors went to West End smash “Billy Elliot — the Musical,” it was the Donmar Warehouse that emerged triumphant at the 51st annual Evening Standard Theater Awards, winning a handful of major prizes for three productions.

Simon Russell Beale was named best actor for “The Philanthropist,” while the actress nod went to Harriet Walter in “Mary Stuart,” and Michael Grandage landed the directing prize for tuner “Grand Hotel.” All three shows were produced at the 251-seat Donmar. Grandage also was named for his West End revival of Schiller’s “Don Carlos,” which began at the Crucible Theater, Sheffield, before transferring to London.

Russell Beale’s win was his third in that category in the past five years. The actor was absent from Monday’s lunchtime ceremony at the Savoy Hotel because he is in New York prepping to take over the role of King Arthur from Tim Curry in Broadway’s “Monty Python’s Spamalot.”

Walter triumphed over her “Mary Stuart” co-star Janet McTeer, who surprised pundits by not making the short list. The season’s second Schiller revival following “Don Carlos,” the production has since transferred from the Donmar to the Apollo, where it runs through Jan. 14.

Walter paid tribute to McTeer in her speech. Every night, said the actress, “(Janet) forgives me for chopping off her head, and we go home on the tube together.”

Best play went to Brian Friel’s “The Home Place,” which closed early after disappointing West End biz last summer. By contrast, “Billy Elliot” has been one of the successes of the year; helmer Stephen Daldry invited up the various actors who are playing or have played the title role to share the spotlight.

Also present: the musical’s composer, Elton John, who called the stage version of the movie “one of the most enjoyable things I’ve ever been involved with.”

The design prize went to Bob Crowley for Disney and Cameron Mackintosh’s Broadway-bound “Mary Poppins.” Crowley is readying Disney’s new “Tarzan” musical, on which he serves as director and designer, for its Broadway bow in the spring.

The most promising playwright prize, which comes with a check for nearly $50,000, went to Nell Leyshon for her Hampstead Theater play “Comfort Me With Apples.” Outstanding newcomer prize — which can go to an individual or institution — went to the Menier Chocolate Factory in Southwark, southeast London, where a revival of “Sunday in the Park With George” opens tonight.

A special award went to the Royal Court Theater, which celebrates its 50th birthday in April. The prize was accepted by three artistic directors, past and present, of the Chelsea venue: Ian Rickson, Daldry and Nicholas Wright.

This year, unusually, the Standard awards are not being televised, which has led to speculation that the afternoon newspaper might do away with them altogether in years to come.

Host for the event was broadcaster Ned Sherrin, returning to compere duties for the first time in eight years.

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