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The Oliviers in Concert

Review of The Oliviers in Concert at the Royal Festival Hall

Tom Millward
Tom Millward

With the film awards season well under way and the BAFTAs set to take place at London's Royal Opera House on 14th February, we now start to look ahead to the most prestigious theatre awards of the year. Of course, I'm talking about the Laurence Olivier Awards. Just like its cinematic counterpart, the ceremony also returns to the ROH on 3rd April, where the best of West End theatre will be celebrated.

2016 calls for special cause for celebration, however, as it marks the 40th Anniversary of the awards. On this occasion, The Society of London Theatre and the BBC held an event under the name of 'The Oliviers In Concert' at the Royal Festival Hall last night. Under the direction of Maria Friedman and Tim Jackson, the evening consisted of show tune highlights from the past 40 years of Olivier Award-winning musicals, performed by a host of talented actors and Olivier Award winners. The guest performers were a fitting mix of West End legends and bright young stars, which included Maria Friedman herslef, Michael Ball, Elaine Paige, Clive Rowe, Daniel Evans and Petra Siniawski, as well as recent Olivier winners Katie Brayben and John Dagleish and two-time Olivier nominee Scarlett Strallen. The effortlessly warm Lesley Manville took on hosting duties for the night.

All that talent was accompanied by the BBC Concert Orchestra, conducted by Keith Lockhart, and the enthusiastic (and immense) Guildford School of Acting Choir. Lara McDonnell, one of the young ladies who plays the role of Matilda, stopped by to perform "Quiet" from the record-breaking hit musical and you can always count on those Jersey Boys to get a crowd tapping their feet.

Michael Ball shone with his usual charm and smooth tones with the standards "All I Ask of You" from 'The Phantom of the Opera' and "Stars" from 'Les Misérables,' but his highlight of the night came from a new arrangement of "Not While I'm Around" from the Sondheim classic 'Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street.' His outing in the title role earned him his second Olivier Award for "Best Actor in a Musical" in 2013.

Maria Friedman showed that there's no slowing down where she's concerned, delivering stirring renditions of "Losing My Mind" from 'Follies' and the title song of Disney's 'Beauty and the Beast.' For the latter, she joked it was a shame for those listening on the radio as she had made all the effort of turning up last night, dressed from head to toe as a teapot. (Olivier winner Dame Angela Lansbury, of course sang the original as the lovable Mrs. Potts.)

Other highlights included Scarlett Strallen and Petra Siniawski's touching performance of "What I Did for Love" from 'A Chorus Line' (which won the very first Olivier for "Best New Musical" in 1976), Elaine Paige giving her dramatic interpretation of Eva Peron with Evita's "Don't Cry For Me, Argentina," Clive Rowe bringing the house down with showstopper "Sit Down, You're Rockin' the Boat" from 'Guys and Dolls,' John Dagleish's nostalgic Kinks anthem "Waterloo Sunset" from 'Sunny Afternoon,' and Katie Brayben's upbeat performance of the title song from 'Beautiful - The Carole King Musical.'

The only element that was lacking in last nights proceedings was perhaps more of a celebration of the Olivier Awards as a ceremony itself, rather than just celebrating the work of those influential composers and performers of the last 40 years. As an audience member, I would have loved to see archive footage of historic winning moments and perhaps a highlight reel of stunning performances from ceremonies from years gone by. I suppose, however, that showing such clips to a present audience would evoke those pesky rights issues, and obviously with the concert being broadcast live on BBC Radio 3 as well last night, any visuals are lost on the wider listening audience and so deemed pointless. The programme was also just a tad Sondheim-heavy for my liking, with no less than five of the twenty numbers coming from his musicals.

All that said, however, last night did make me feel proud and privileged to be able to work in this industry, filled with such a rich history. And why not enjoy a glorious evening of patting ourselves on the back once in a while?

What a treat it is to experience these timeless scores played by a full orchestra and to let yourself be immersed in the musical genius of some of history's heroes of musical theatre. Many thanks to The Society of London Theatre for a marvellous celebration of an industry which simply deserves to be celebrated. Bring on the Olivier Awards ceremony on 3rd April, I say!

(Tom Millward)

s a great-looking, brilliantly performed piece ... My only qualm about The Play That Goes Wrong is that in getting their play so dreadfully wrong night after night, they are also getting it absolutely right."
Tim Walker for The Telegraph

"Its not sophisticated and its certainly over-extended; the shows one-act Fringe origins arent hard to spot. Yet, along with the rest of the enthusiastic audience, I laughed continually. Director Mark Bell also offers some ingenious, not to mention precision-drilled, physical comedy."
Fiona Mountford for The Evening Standard

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