SYDNEY — The 2004 Helpmann Awards ceremony was everything an awards night should be — slick, on schedule, humorous and honest.
Accepting the play direction trophy for Melbourne Theater Co.’s “Inheritance,” helmer Simon Phillips call his win “really unexpected,” and then added, “But why should it be? It was brilliant, wasn’t it?”
Australia’s nascent answer to the Tony Awards affirmed its rep Aug. 9 with a spiffing presentation at Sydney’s Lyric Theater, broadcast live for the first time on arts cabler Ovation.
Ben Elton’s Queen tribute, the widely panned but popular “We Will Rock You,” nabbed a surprising five awards in the musical category. But Disney’s “The Lion King,” still purring at Sydney’s State Theater, won the major tuner prizes for musical, choreography, costumes and director for Julie Taymor. The main prize was awarded via satellite from New York by the “Boy From Oz” himself, Hugh Jackman.
The Helpmanns, named after choreographer-dancer-actor-director Robert Helpmann, offered a few more surprises, arguably due to the eclectic nature of nationwide selection and voting panels.
The State Opera of South Australia’s production of “Dead Man Walking” trumped the national Opera Australia, winning three awards, including best opera, to OA’s one for “Lulu.”
MTC scored three awards for Hannie Rayson’s “Inheritance” and one for Belinda McClory’s perf in “Frozen,” while the Sydney Theater Co., currently home to Cate Blanchett and Hugo Weaving in “Hedda Gabler,” had just one win, for David Field’s perf in “Victory.” That play’s Judy Davis lost to British vet Maggie Smith in the female actor in a play category, for the touring production of Alan Bennett’s “Talking Heads.”
Bangarra Dance Theater’s “Bush” and Australian Dance Theater’s “Held” shared the dance awards.
In new categories, Dainty Consolidated and Clear Channel Entertainment’s “Rolling Stones Licks World Tour” won for concert presentation in both arena and theater categories, while Creative Entertainment’s touring extravaganza “Big Day Out” won the stadium category.
The evening, vibrantly hosted by Simon Burke, was viewed as a solid advance for the burgeoning awards, with performances by Australian Dance Theater and the troupes from “The Lion King,” “Saturday Night Fever” and “The Producers” adding to the evening’s luster.