“Harry Potter and the Cursed Child” won a record nine Olivier Awards on Sunday, including Best Play. This two-parter by Jack Thorne is based on an original story that he crafted with author JK Rowling and director John Tiffany which envisions Harry, Hermione and Ron as 30somethings about to send their own offspring to Hogwarts. Tiffany took Best Director over, among others, himself for his helming of the revival of the Tennessee Williams‘ play “The Glass Menagerie,” which was on Broadway in 2013.
“Harry Potter” also took three of the four acting categories: for leading man Jamie Parker, who plays the grown-up Harry, as well as supporting players Noma Dumezweni (Hermione Granger) and Anthony Boyle (Scorpius Malfoy). And it swept the four design awards for costume, lighting, set and sound. The only two races it lost were for music and choreography to “School of Rock” and its three bands and Matthew Bourne for “The Red Shoes” at Sadler’s Wells respectively.
“Harry Potter” had already matched the benchmark of 11 nominations set by the musical “Hairspray” back in 2008. This haul of nine awards eclipsed the seven claimed by both the musical “Matilda” and the play “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night.”
Parker was pitted against six-time champ Sir Ian McKellen (“No Man’s Land”) and two other Olivier rookies: Ed Harris (“Buried Child”) and Tom Hollander (“Travesties”).
In the ultra-competitive Best Actress race, Billie Piper won for “Yerma,” which also claimed Best Play Revival over two-time Oscar champ Glenda Jackson who contended her for the first time since 1984 with a nomination for “King Lear” as well as two-time Tony champ Cherry Jones (“The Glass Menagerie) and Ruth Wilson (“Hedda Gabler”).
“Groundhog Day” won Best Musical as well as Best Actor for leading man Andy Karl who makes the role played by Bill Murray in the 1993 comedy his own. Karl bested the stars of two Andrew Lloyd Webber shows — David Fynn (“School Of Rock”) and Tyrone Huntley (“Jesus Christ Superstar”) — as well as West End newcomer Charlie Stemp (“Half a Sixpence”). In a statement, Karl readily admitted, “When it all seemed too good to be true – performing ‘Groundhog Day’ in beautiful London with the most incredible story and some of the most talented people I’ve ever had the pleasure of knowing… now this happens? This may be my actual choice for my own personal ‘Groundhog Day.'”
“Dreamgirls,” a 1982 Tony nominee had never had a West End production till now, so it was eligible to contend for Best Musical. While it lost that race, onetime “Glee” star Amber Riley won Best Actress for her show-stopping performance as Effie White, the role that won Jennifer Holliday a Tony and Jennifer Hudson the Oscar. Among those she edged out was Glenn Close for the remounting of “Sunset Boulevard.” While Close won a Tony for this show back in 1995 (thereby making her ineligible for the current rialto revival) she never played the part of Norma Desmond on this side of the pond till now. Also in contention were Sheridan Smith in “Funny Girl,” the show that launched Barbra Streisand; and the cast of “The Girls.”
Winners were revealed in ceremony at London’s Royal Albert Hall on April 9. Unlike the Tony Awards, which are showcased live on CBS, the Olivier Awards geta live feed on BBC Radio 2 and an edited two-hour version broadcast on ITV two days later.
This year’s Olivier Awards were hosted by comedian turned stage star Jason Manford. A popular stand-up comedian, Manford turned his talents to acting recently and has headlined sell-out tours of the tuners “The Producers” and “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.” As he wryly observed, “Hosting the Oliviers is the closest I’m going to get to getting one! “
A slew of talent from both sides of the pond acted as presenters. Among the Americans taking to the stage of the Royal Albert Hall were multiple Tony winners Nathan Lane, Audra McDonald and Lin-Manuel Miranda. The roster of British talent included: Alfie Boe, John Boyega, Phoebe Fox, Andrew Garfield, Denise Gough, Ruthie Henshall, Amanda Holden, Rufus Hound, Cush Jumbo, Rose Leslie, Maureen Lipman, Paul O’Grady, Sophie Okonedo, Mark Rylance and Russell Tovey.