Olivier Awards finally ready for primetime

Even though they have been handed out annually since 1976, the West End’s top theater kudos — the Olivier Awards — will only be broadcast for the first time this year. The BBC digital service will air them live from London’s Theatre Royal Drury Lane on March 13. BBC News will provide red carpet coverage as well as a recap of the ceremony while BBC Radio 2 will devote the entire evening’s schedule to the Oliviers.

Till now, these prizes have been handed out in a low-key ceremony at one hotel or another. This precluded staging the kind of elaborate musical numbers that make the Tony Awards so watchable. The Tonys serve as a two-hour long advertisement touting Broadway fare to a national audience. The money to be made in the theater stateside, such as it is, often comes from touring productions rather than rialto runs.

WIth MasterCard coming in as the lead sponsor of the Oliviers, the organizers finally have the financial wherewithal to produce a showcase for the best of the West End. Expect performances from the Best Musical nominees —  “Fela!,” “Legally Blonde,” “Love Never Dies,” and “Love Story” — as well as tunes from the BBC Concert Orchestra.

Julian Bird, the recently-named head of the Society of London Theatres which stage these awards, worked hard to bring the ceremony to a wider audience. “We argue that we are the world theatre capital, and both New York and London deserve to have fantastic theatre awards.”

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