By Michael Roddy
LONDON (Reuters) - "Sunny Afternoon," based on the music of the 1960s rock group the Kinks, blew away American competitors to win best new musical at the Olivier Awards on Sunday, while a revival of Arthur Miller's "A View from the Bridge" took best play revival.
Kevin Spacey won a Special Award, presented to him by Judi Dench, at the London theater's premiere awards evening in acknowledgement of his 10 years as artistic director of The Old Vic, ending later this year.
Spacey, now the face of television's "House of Cards," serenaded the star-studded audience at the Royal Opera House gala with a rendition of Simon & Garfunkel's "A Bridge Over Troubled Waters" - perhaps in recognition of his rocky start at The Old Vic that turned into an undisputed triumph.
"Yes it was a long period of time, but my life changed as a result of the people I had a chance to work with every single day at that theater," Spacey said.
A clearly ebullient Ray Davies, 70, the former lead singer of the Kinks, said it was a great day for a British musical to beat out the American challengers "Beautiful" and "Memphis."
"It shows how important musical theater has become in this country," Davies said, noting the show was the only British musical nominated, and topped the evening with four gongs.
Davies got an award for musical achievement while the show picked up awards for best supporting actor in a musical for George Maguire and best actor in a musical for John Dagliesh.
Best actress in a musical went to Katie Brayben who stars in "Beautiful - The Carole King Musical."
Stage veteran Angela Lansbury, in a floor-length blue gown, almost stole the show with a teary-eyed acceptance speech for best supporting actress in a revival of Noel Coward's "Blithe Spirit."
"I can't remember a lot of things these days, but I can remember my lines," Lansbury, 89, of "Murder, She Wrote" fame, said as she clutched her Olivier statuette.
Ivo van Hove, the Belgian director of the Miller revival, said the play set in the Italian immigrant community in New York is perhaps more relevant now than it was at its premiere a half century ago.
"Arthur Miller is capable of dealing with the issues that still matter for us at this moment," said Van Hove, who also won the award for best director.
Mark Strong won best actor in a play for the same production for his performance as the male lead Eddie Carbone.
Penelope Wilton, best known to television viewers as Isobel Crawley in "Downton Abbey," was named best actress in a play for "Taken at Midnight."
The best new play award went to "King Charles III," a look at a Britain of the future in which Prince Charles - perennially overshadowed by his mother Queen Elizabeth - finally accedes to the throne.
Playwright Mike Bartlett, who wrote the play in blank verse, joked in accepting the award that he wanted to express "thanks to the Royal Family for not closing us down for treason."
(Editing by Michael Roddy and Andre Grenon)