Broadway-bound 'Sunset Boulevard' and star Nicole Scherzinger win big at London's Olivier awards

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Nicole Scherzinger, winner of the best actress in a musical award for "Sunset Boulevard", poses for photographers in the winner's room during the Olivier Awards on Sunday, April 14, 2024, in London. (Photo by Vianney Le Caer/Invision/AP)

LONDON – A radical restaging of Hollywood film noir musical “Sunset Boulevard” was the big winner on Sunday at the London stage Olivier Awards, taking seven trophies including best musical revival and best actress for American star Nicole Scherzinger.

Soccer-themed state-of-the-nation drama “Dear England” was named best new play, while Sarah Snook and Mark Gatiss were among the acting winners.

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Scherzinger was rewarded for her performance as fading silver screen star Norma Desmond in a flashy revival of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Sunset Boulevard,” three decades after the musical’s 1990s debut. Her co-star Tom Francis won the corresponding best actor prize as a struggling screenwriter fatefully drawn into Desmond’s orbit.

Jamie Lloyd took the directing trophy for the technically innovative production, which melds live video with the onstage action and also won Oliviers for sound and lighting design. It’s due to open in New York later this year, and Lloyd predicted it would “take Broadway by storm.”

Scherzinger said that when she was growing up in Kentucky, “I always wanted to be a singer and do musicals.”

“I dreamed of so many roles I wanted to do — and honestly this role, Norma Desmond, was not one of those roles,” she said. “But God works in mysterious ways.”

The prize for best new musical went to “Operation Mincemeat,” a word-of-mouth hit based on an audacious real-life espionage operation that deceived the Nazis during World War II. The show began life in a tiny theater in 2019 and has moved to progressively larger venues, gathering accolades along the way.

“Stranger Things: The First Shadow,” a dazzlingly staged prequel to the Netflix supernatural series, was named best new entertainment or comedy.

The Oliviers — the U.K. equivalent of Broadway’s Tony Awards — are celebrating a bumper year for new shows in the West End, finally bouncing back from the COVID-19 pandemic. Several winners lamented the soaring cost of theater tickets, and cuts to arts education that are squeezing working-class talent out of theatrical careers and theater audiences.

“If you don’t tell a kid to go and see a show … they’re not going to develop that habit, they’re not going to get that experience,” said “Dear England” playwright James Graham, who grew up in a small mining town. “So I am really worried.”

But the mood was largely celebratory as “Ted Lasso” star Hannah Waddingham presided over an exuberant ceremony at London’s Royal Albert Hall, opening the show by belting out “Anything Goes” alongside the London Community Gospel Choir. The show was peppered with performances from several of the nominated musicals, including “Guys and Dolls,” “Hadestown” and homegrown hit “The Little Big Things.”

The prizes, which recognize achievements in theater, opera and dance, were founded in 1976 and named for the late actor-director Laurence Olivier. Winners are chosen by voting groups of stage professionals and theatergoers.

Snook – the scheming Shiv Roy in “Succession” – beat a talented field including Sarah Jessica Parker and Sophie Okonedo to be named best actress in a play for “The Picture of Dorian Gray,” an adaptation of Oscar Wilde’s cautionary fable in which Snook plays more than two dozen characters.

Backstage, the Emmy Award-winning Australian performer said the solo stage show was “so much harder” than doing TV.

“I’ve never done anything harder than this,” said Snook, who said she’d asked herself “why am I doing a 60,000-word monologue with an 8-month-old baby?” She revealed she’d learned her lines for the play during filming of the final series of “Succession,” at night while breastfeeding her daughter.

Gatiss — co-creator of the BBC TV series “Sherlock” — won the best actor trophy for playing theater great John Gielgud in “The Motive and the Cue,” Jack Thorne’s play about the struggle to mount a 1964 production of “Hamlet” with Richard Burton.

Gatiss recalled that Gielgud had considered awards ceremonies “vulgar.”

“I’m very, very thrilled to be in such wonderfully vulgar company,” he said.

Gatiss beat “Dear England” star Joseph Fiennes and Andrew Scott, who had been the favorite to win for the solo show “Vanya.” The Anton Chekhov adaptation by Simon Stephens took the prize for best revival.

Will Close was named best supporting actor in a play for his performance as footballer Harry Kane in “Dear England.”

Haydn Gwynne, who died in October, was posthumously awarded the best supporting actress prize for her final stage role in “When Winston Went to War with the Wireless," about the early days of radio in Britain.

Awards for supporting performances in musicals were Amy Trigg for “The Little Big Things” and Jak Malone for “Operation Mincemeat.”

The show ended with a tribute to the National Theatre, which turned 60 in 2023 — culminating in a star-studded cast singing the anthem “You’ll Never Walk Alone.”

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