LONDON (AP) — The high-stepping Broadway hit "Kinky Boots" was named best new musical at London's Olivier theater awards on Sunday, while Martin McDonagh's killer comedy "Hangmen" won the prize for best new play.
The ceremony at London's Royal Opera House opened with Imelda Staunton belting out the "Gypsy" number "Everything's Coming Up Roses" — and the words proved prophetic. Staunton was named best actress in a musical for playing showbiz matriarch Mama Rose, while "Gypsy" took four trophies in all, including best musical revival.
Judi Dench set an Olivier Awards record, taking her eighth career trophy — supporting actress — for playing the wise adviser Paulina in a Kenneth Branagh-directed production of William Shakespeare's "The Winter's Tale."
Dench took the stage to thunderous applause, and declared herself "absolutely livid — because I had a bet with my grandson which I've now lost."
The lead acting prizes went to Denise Gough and Kenneth Cranham, who beat big-name nominees including Benedict Cumberbatch, Mark Rylance and Nicole Kidman with emotionally lacerating performances that wowed audiences and critics.
Cranham, a veteran of five decades on the British stage, won for playing a man unmoored by dementia in "The Father" by French playwright Florian Zeller.
Cranham said that he'd felt like an underdog up against fellow nominees Cumberbatch, Rylance, Branagh and Adrian Lester.
"With that lot I felt like the little old corner shop," he said. "They're almost like brand names."
Gough won for playing an actress trying to leave addiction behind in Duncan Macmillan's "People, Place and Things," staged by the National Theatre.
She called for the awards to recognize the theater's diversity, saying the Oliviers were still "very white" and hailing black actresses Noma Dumezweni, Sharon D. Clarke and Marianne Jean-Baptiste, none of whom were nominated.
There was a strong Broadway flavor to the prizes, Britain's equivalent of the Tony Awards. "Kinky Boots" — a British story given a buoyant musical makeover by songwriter Cyndi Lauper and playwright Harvey Fierstein — won three trophies, including best new musical. Matt Henry was named best actor in a musical for his starring turn as drag queen Lola in the tale of a struggling English shoe factory that finds success by making fabulous footwear for cross-dressers, and the show's costumes also won an Olivier. Inspired by a 2005 movie starring Chiwetel Ejiofor, the musical took six Tonys in 2013.
Another New York import, Lin-Manuel Miranda's hip-hop musical "In The Heights," took three prizes: choreography, achievement in music and supporting actor in a musical, for David Bedella.
"Hangmen," McDonagh's savage comedy about an executioner forced into retirement by Britain's abolition of the death penalty, was named best new play.
"Nell Gwynn" — a high-spirited romp starring Gemma Arterton as the mistress of 17th-century King Charles II — took the prize for best new comedy, a separate category.
The best-revival trophy went to the National Theatre's production of August Wilson's birth-of-the-blues drama "Ma Rainey's Black Bottom."
Founded in 1976, the Oliviers celebrated their 40th anniversary with an exuberant ceremony that featured numbers from nominated musicals including "Guys And Dolls," ''Bend It Like Beckham" and "Bugsy Malone," a performance by a pink-haired Lauper and prize presenters including "The Hobbit" star Luke Evans, musical diva Shirley Bassey and "Game of Thrones" star Kit Harington.
This month also marks the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare's death, and the ceremony celebrated the Bard with a musical performance of his Sonnet 18 — "Shall I compare thee to a summer's day" — by singer Jack Savoretti.
Named in honor of the late actor Laurence Olivier, the prizes honor achievements in London theater, dance and opera. Winners in most categories are chosen by a panel of stage professionals and theatergoers.
The audience award for most popular show, decided by public vote, went to Andrew Lloyd Webber's indefatigable musical "The Phantom of the Opera."
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