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La Boheme and Legally Blonde win at Olivier Awards

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For the second year running, a fringe show that began life in the back room of a London pub has pulled off a surprise win at the Laurence Olivier Awards.

OperaUpClose and Soho Theatre’s production of Pucinni’s La Boheme, which premiered at the tiny Cock Tavern Theatre in Kilburn, before transferring to the 150-seat Soho Theatre, has won the award for Best New Opera Production.

By winning, it defeated five international companies, including the Royal Opera House and English National Opera. Its success follows last year’s remarkable win for Katori Hall’s The Mountaintop, which premiered at the Theatre 503 above a pub in Battersea and won the Best New Play award.

Speaking to The Stage, La Boheme translator and director Robin Norton-Hale said: “It’s just so amazing to have been recognised by the industry. We won a What’s on Stage award, which was incredible because it was the audiences saying we like opera. This was the industry saying we like what you’re doing.

“Opera is reviewed in newspapers under classical music, not theatre, which I have a big problem with. Opera is theatre with music. I think what we have done is bring theatre audiences in, and make it easy for them to experience opera as we see it.”

Elsewhere at this year’s Oliviers, the National Theatre enjoyed a successful night, picking up seven wins spread across two shows – After the Dance and The White Guard. The South Bank venue fared particularly well in the production categories, winning Best Lighting Design, Best Set Design and Best Costume Design. The Royal Court Theatre picked up three awards and the Donmar Warehouse two.

Legally Blonde was the most successful commercial show, picking up three major awards, Best New Musical, Best Actress in a Musical for Sheridan Smith and Best Performance in a Supporting Role in a Musical for Jill Halfpenny.

“With the credit crunch, and the terrible weather, all you want to do is have two and a half hours of escapism and [Legally Blonde] does what it says on the tin. It’s pink, fluffy, camp and I think British audiences really took to it,” Smith told The Stage.

Smith earned her first Olivier nomination for the Little Shop of Horrors in 2008. It was on the strength of her performance in a song from that show at that year’s Olivier Awards, that American director Jerry Mitchell decided to cast her as his leading lady in the London production of Legally Blonde.

Less successful in the musical categories was Andrew Lloyd Webber’s sequel to The Phantom of the Opera, Love Never Dies, which failed to convert any of its seven nominations into wins.

In one of the most hotly-contested categories of the evening, Roger Allam won Best Actor for his performance as Falstaff in Shakespeare’s Globe’s production of Henry IV Parts 1&2. He had been up against Rory Kinnear’s Hamlet, Derek Jacobi’s King Lear, David Suchet in All My Sons and Mark Rylance for La Bete.

Composer Stephen Sondheim was recognised with the Laurence Olivier Special Award, on an evening which also saw two revivals of his shows pick up prizes.

The Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre won Best Musical Revival for Into the Woods, while David Thaxton was recognised as Best Actor in a Musical for his performance in the Donmar Warehouse’s revival of Passion.

The BBC Radio 2 Audience Awards, which is voted for by members of the public to chose their favourite long-running West End show, was won by Queen musical We Will Rock You.

The awards in full were:

Society of London Theatre Special Award – Stephen Sondheim

Best Actress – Nancy Carroll for After the Dance at the Lyttelton, NT

Best Actor – Roger Allam for Henry IV Parts 1 & 2 at Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre

Best Actress in a Supporting Role – Michelle Terry for Tribes at the Jerwood Theatre Downstairs, Royal Court

Best Actor in a Supporting Role – Adrian Scarborough for After the Dance, at the Lyttelton, NT

Best New Play – Clybourne Park by Bruce Norris at the Jerwood Theatre Downstairs, Royal Court

Best Musical Revival – Into the Woods at the Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre

Best New Musical – Legally Blonde – The Musical book by Heather Hach, music and lyrics by Laurence O’Keefe and Nell Benjamin at the Savoy

Best Entertainment – The Railway Children by E Nesbit, adapted by Mike Kenny at the Waterloo Station Theatre

Best Actress in a Musical – Sheridan Smith for Legally Blonde – The Musical at the Savoy

Best Actor in a Musical – David Thaxton for Passion at the Donmar Warehouse

Best Performance in a Supporting Role in a Musical – Jill Halfpenny for Legally Blonde – The Musical at the Savoy

Best Director – Howard Davies for The White Guard at the Lyttelton, NT

Best Revival – After the Dance directed by Thea Sharrock at the Lyttelton. NT

Best Theatre Choreographer – Leon Baugh for Sucker Punch at the Jerwood Theatre Downstairs, Royal Court

Best Lighting Design – The White Guard designed by Neil Austin at the Lyttelton, NT

Best Set Design – The White Guard designed by Bunny Christie at the Lyttelton, NT

Best Costume Design – After the Dance designed by Hildegard Bechtler at the Lyttelton, NT

Best Sound Design – King Lear designed by Adam Cork at the Donmar Warehouse

BBC Radio 2 Audience Award for Most Popular Show – We Will Rock You

Outstanding Achievement in an Affiliate Theatre – Lyric Hammersmith for Blasted

Best New Opera Production – OperaUpClose and Soho Theatre’s La Boheme at the Soho Theatre

Outstanding Achievement in Opera – Christian Gerhaher for his performance in the Royal Opera’s Tannhauser at the Royal Opera House

Best New Dance Production – Babel (Words) by Eastman vzw and Royal Opera House La Monnaie at Sadler’s Wells, choreographed by Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui and Damien Jalet

Outstanding Achievement in Dance – Antony Gormley for his set design of Babel (Words) by Eastman vzw and Theatre Royal de la Monnaie at Sadler’s Wells

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