This year the Olivier Awards celebrate their 40th anniversary. They began life as the Society of West End Theatre Awards, changing their name eight years later at Laurence Olivier’s agreement.
The awards celebrate the best achievements in the performing arts over the past year (musicals, plays, dance & opera), and the ceremony itself acts as a celebration of that period by including live performances from selected nominees. I was lucky enough to attend the 2015 ceremony to cheer on Sunny Afternoon!
Whilst the awards obviously aren’t all about musicals, last Monday the Royal Festival Hall hosted a concert that commemorated many of the Olivier-winning musicals since the ceremony’s inception.
The evening began with a performance from the first winner of Best New Musical, A Chorus Line. Scarlett Strallen & Petra Siniawski sang ‘I Hope I Get It’ and ‘What I Did For Love’, before the host, Lesley Manville, started her compèring duties for the night.
Much of the evening was dedicated to ‘classic’ musicals and more established musical theatre composers (five out of the twenty songs were by Stephen Sondheim), however some more recent shows also had their moment to shine. In the first act, this was covered by Katie Brayben performing the title song from the Carole King musical Beautiful, and the cast of Jersey Boys entertaining the crowd with a medley of some of the Four Seasons’ biggest hits (‘Sherry’, ‘Big Girls Don’t Cry’ & ‘Walk Like A Man’). It was particularly brilliant watching the latter, as it’s not something you expect to be backed by a full orchestra!
Maria Friedman is a legend.
Sorry, that just needed to be said! Nominated for seven Oliviers and winning three, it was only natural that she was included on the bill for this concert. (She also happened to be one of the evening’s directors.) After singing ‘Move On’ from Sunday in the Park with George, a show for which she was nominated as Best Actress in a Musical, she also sang the title tune from Beauty and the Beast (1998’s Best New Musical winner) – sadly not dressed up as a teapot!
A real highlight of the first act, for me, was the orchestra’s performance of the overture from Candide. I read the original book by Voltaire (in the original old French) as part of my French A Level and, as is the case when you’re studying a work of literature, hated it. But since then I’ve grown to appreciate it. I knew of the Bernstein operetta but had never seen or heard it performed, so it was a real treat to have it performed live. It’s immediately intriguing, and I’m already calling for a West End revival.
I have to say I’m not really convinced by what I heard of She Loves Me. Scarlett Strallen performed ‘Vanilla Ice Cream’ with conviction, but out of context it seemed a bit ridiculous. And if the rest of the show is as, shall we say, ‘interesting’ as this song suggests I am a bit bewildered as to how it won Best Musical Revival – particularly against Brecht’s The Threepenny Opera, which really is brilliant.
Michael Ball’s first performance of the night was a duet with Scarlet Strallen of ‘All I Ask Of You’ from Phantom of the Opera, followed shortly by ‘Quiet’ from Tim Minchin’s Matilda – still the record-holder for the most Oliviers won by a musical (seven in 2012). A great juxtaposition of a long-running classic with a modern classic.
Excitingly, the first act closed with a performance from a show I’ve very recently fallen in love with: Clive Rowe’s rendition of ‘Sit Down, You’re Rockin’ The Boat‘ from Guys and Dolls. The National Theatre’s 1996 revival earned Rowe the award for Best Performance in a Supporting Role in a Musical – very well-deserved, if the rest of his performance was as good as this number suggests. Absolutely my highlight of the act.
The second act opened with the main reason I was there. John Dagleish performing ‘Waterloo Sunset’ backed by the orchestra. John won the Olivier for Best Actor in a Musical last year, alongside his onstage brother George Maguire (Best Actor in a Supporting Role in a Musical). We were a bit disappointed that none of the other cast members had been invited, particularly George, as the show had won four Oliviers – the most of all shows in 2015. However, given the calibre & history of some of the other shows that were being represented at the concert, it was actually quite remarkable that Sunny Afternoon was invited at all! John really did the show proud and looked like he was really thrilled about being there.
A new version of ‘Not While I’m Around’ from Sweeney Todd was then performed by Michael Ball, followed by the overture from Oklahoma! – making good use of the Guildford School of Acting Choir!
‘Me and My Girl’ gave us a bit of a surprise: a duet from Katie Brayben & John Dagleish! They were very entertaining and sounded really good singing together – no doubt any producers in attendance were hurriedly working out how soon they could revive the show with these two as the stars…
‘Finishing the Hat’ was next performed by Daniel Evans – I’m still not really sure what he was going on about. Other than a hat. And another couple of classics followed: ‘You’re the Top’ from Anything Goes, and ‘Losing My Mind’ from Follies straight after.
Michael Ball then performed what is arguably one of the best songs in Les Misérables (‘Stars’) to a very warm reception. Whether you’re a fan of his or not, you can’t help but be impressed at the hold he has over an audience. The same goes for the next act: Elaine Paige, reprising the role of Eva Perón to sing ‘Don’t Cry For Me, Argentina’. Rapturous applause, both before and after her performance certainly justified hers being the final solo effort of the night, and the penultimate song.
The concert closed with ‘Our Time’ from Merrily We Roll Along. Slowly the stage filled with all of the evening’s performers and built to a climactic finish. Everyone looked like they were really enjoying themselves, and that was just the cast! The final applause showed just how much we, the audience, had loved the night’s entertainment and were so pleased to be there. An unforgettable experience from start to finish.
If you would like to listen to the concert again, it’s available on BBC iPlayer Radio until 24 February 2016.