UK theater’s Olivier Awards back after COVID-enforced hiatus

LONDON – “Cabaret” stars Eddie Redmayne and Jessie Buckley are among the acting nominees for British theater’s Olivier Awards, which return Sunday with a live ceremony and a black-tie crowd after a three-year gap imposed by COVID-19.

The celebration of London theater, opera and dance is back at London’s Royal Albert Hall for the first time since the coronavirus pandemic shuttered Britain’s performance venues more than two years ago, weeks before the scheduled 2020 Oliviers show.

Kit Harington, Tom Felton, Emma Corrin and Jonathan Pryce were among the stars expected on the sustainable green carpet, made from reusable grass, on a sunny London afternoon before the glitzy, music-filled ceremony.

Redmayne and Buckley are nominated for their roles as the Emcee and Sally Bowles in an intimate production of “Cabaret” that transformed London’s Playhouse Theatre into the Kit Kat Club in 1930s Berlin. The show has 11 nominations for the Oliviers, Britain’s equivalent of Broadway’s Tony Awards.

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Redmayne is up for best actor in a musical alongside Olly Dobson for “Back to the Future – The Musical;” Arinzé Kene for “Get Up Stand Up! The Bob Marley Musical;” and Robert Lindsay for “Anything Goes.”

Buckley is competing for best actress in a musical against Sutton Foster for “Anything Goes;” Beverley Knight for “The Drifters Girl;” and Stephanie McKeon for “Frozen.”

Knight said the theater community was ready to celebrate after a difficult couple of years.

“We have been bereft of theater for so long, just had nothing. And people only realize the importance of the place that theater and live entertainment played in any society when it was taken away,” she said.

“We bring in multimillions and that’s week in, week out. So we are part of giving the economy buoyancy, but more than that, we feed the nation’s soul,” she added.

The contenders for best new musical are “Back to the Future – The Musical;” “The Drifters Girl;” “Frozen;” “Get Up Stand Up! The Bob Marley Musical;” and “Moulin Rouge!” The nominees for best new play are “2:22 A Ghost Story;” “Best of Enemies;” “Cruise;” and “Life of Pi.”

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Best actor and actress nominees for plays include Lily Allen for “2:22 A Ghost Story;” Cush Jumbo for “Hamlet;” Omari Douglas for “Constellations;” and Ben Daniels for “The Normal Heart.”

The show will also host musical tribute to a theater titan — composer and lyricist Stephen Sondheim, who died last year at 91.

The last Oliviers ceremony, held largely remotely in October 2020, awarded work done before the British government ordered U.K. theaters to shut down in March 2020. Venues began reopening in mid-2021, and shows are largely up and running again, though the number of international visitors, vital to sustaining West End shows, remains well below pre-pandemic levels.

The awards were founded in 1976 and named for the late actor-director Laurence Olivier. Winners in most categories are chosen by a panel of stage professionals and theater-goers.

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