Jerry Scores Four as NT, Donmar & Kelly TriumphDate: 23 February 2004
Jerry Springer - The Opera has made awards history, being the first show to win four major Best Musical prizes in a year, at the Evening Standard, Critics’ Circle, Whatsonstage.com’s own Theatregoers’ Choice Awards and now the Laurence Olivier Awards (See News, 22 Feb 2004), where, at last night’s star-studded black tie ceremony at the London Hilton, it took home a total of four awards – Best Sound Design, Best Supporting Performance in a Musical and Best Actor in a Musical as well as Best New Musical.
The entire 27-strong chorus of Jerry Springer stormed the stage chanting when they were named Best Supporting Performance in a Musical, winning out over individual actors including Tracie Bennett and Jerome Pradon. Steve Bradford, speaking on behalf of his fellows, said “to be nominated as part of an ensemble is incredible, to win it is absolutely amazing”, while host Clive Anderson later commented that the group must have set a record for the number of people collecting a statue.
American David Bedella - the show’s Satan, who won Best Actor in a Musical over his co-star Michael Brandon as well as Ragtime’s Graham Bickley and Kevyn Morrow – may also have broken a record for the longest speech, in which he thanked Brandon and everyone involved in the show as well as SOLT (“I’m not sure what that stands for”), “the gift that is the National Theatre” and the entire London theatre community (“you have no idea what it feels like to come over from the US and to be enveloped in this love”). Bedella also shared an anecdote about the show’s composer Richard Thomas who, on opening night at the National last year, slipped him a note which congratulated “you on a brilliant performance and me for writing the best male lead in a musical since West Side Story”.
Thomas was recognised for that effort when he and co-creator and director Stewart Lee accepted the Best New Musical gong. “Writing a musical is a very life-shortening experience,” he said. “It’s a leap of faith and a labour of love by hundreds of people.” Lee paid special thanks to Battersea Arts Centre (BAC), where the show started its life and which has just had its annual funding cut by £130,000. The Springer company will perform a benefit at BAC in June.
National & Donmar Dominate
The National, where Jerry Springer had its full-fledged world premiere last May, scooped four more Oliviers, bringing its 2004 tally to eight in total. In addition to the musical wins, Honour’s Eileen Atkins won Best Actress over competition from Helen Mirren, Kristin Scott Thomas, Ann Mitchell and Kelly Reilly; Howard Davies’ production of Eugene O’Neill’s Mourning Becomes Electra won Best Revival; Martin McDonagh’s The Pillowman won Best New Play and Power was awarded Best Costume Design for Christopher Oram.
Institutionally, the National’s closest runner-up was the Donmar Warehouse with four awards, three of them for its own musical production, the Chicago Shakespeare Theatre co-produced revival of Stephen Sondheim’s Pacific Overtures, which scooped Best Lighting Design (Hugh Vanstone), Best Theatre Choreographer (Karen Bruce) and Outstanding Musical Production.
Donmar artistic director Michael Grandage also triumphed in the Best Director category, where unusually he was the only one of the four contenders to recognised for directing a play rather than a musical. Accepting the award for his production of Caligula, he acknowledged the support team at the Donmar as well as his leading man Michael Sheen, “who gave such a brilliant performance and who led a great company of actors”. Though Sheen nabbed Best Actor honours at both the Evening Standard and Critics’ Circle, at the Oliviers, he lost out to the headline-grabbing Matthew Kelly.
”Tonight, Matthew, you’re the Olivier winner”
Kelly was honoured for his performance as gentle giant Lennie in Birmingham Rep’s production of Of Mice and Men, but the award also served to affirm the theatre community’s support for the man who’s endured a harrowing year. Just before the tour of the Steinbeck revival was due to commence last February, Kelly was arrested over allegations of child abuse dating back to the 1970s. Although he was later cleared of all charges, he was publicly tried in the tabloid press. He went on with the tour regardless and, in the autumn, the production earned a West End transfer.
Taking to the stage last night, as many in the audience leapt to their feet to applaud him, Kelly was clearly moved. “This is a turn up,” he said. He thanked Birmingham Rep and his co-stars for supporting him. “This company went through a terrible time together, we went on a journey. Without them, I would have never got through this year.” He concluded by praising his wife, saying “Sarah Kelly is a remarkable woman and I’m a very lucky man.”
Also shocked and overwhelmed at winning was Maria Friedman, who picked up her third Olivier Award last night, receiving Best Actress in a Musical for Ragtime. “I’m absolutely thrilled to be here for one reason,” she said, “to thank my sister Sonia”, the West End producer who secured a London season for the musical after a concert performance at the 2002 International Festival of Musical Theatre in Cardiff. “You always get these awards when you’ve had the best time of your life – and I did,” said the actress.
In the two categories for Off-West End affiliate theatres, after confessing that “I ain’t never won nothing before” Most Promising Newcomer Debbie Tucker Green, said that, in terms of satisfying the needs of people who buy tickets and pay taxes “theatre still does have a way to go”, while Young Vic artistic director David Lan, who won the Outstanding Achievement award for “an audacious season”, used the opportunity to appeal for money. Earlier this month (See News, 10 Feb 2004), the theatre launched a high-profile campaign to raise £12.5 million for essential renovations that begin this summer. “The Young Vic is actually falling down”, Lan said last night, Olivier in hand. “We’re going to rebuild it and this is a good reason why.”
Other key awards included: Best Performance in a Supporting Role for Warren Mitchell in The Price; Best Entertainment for C’est Barbican!; and Best Set Design for Hitchcock Blonde’s William Dudley who said we’d reached “a time when theatre can’t really afford sets anymore – 3-D video projection (which he’s also employed to critical acclaim in The Coast of Utopia, The Permanent Way and in the upcoming musical The Woman in White) may just fill the gap.”
- by Terri Paddock