Sunset Boulevard was the big winner at the WhatsOnStage awards, with the Nicole Scherzinger-led musical taking seven wins, while James Norton’s A Little Life bagged two awards and was the standout play on a night that recognises West End productions.
Jamie Lloyd’s “radical rework” of Billy Wilder’s film about a screenwriter and a faded Hollywood star stunned many when it arrived at the Savoy Theatre last autumn and it dominated at the awards show voted for by theatregoers.
Arifa Akbar, of the Guardian, described Scherzinger as embodyinga “horror film succubus or murderous gorgon who would literally kill for another 15 minutes of fame”. The former Pussycat Doll won best performer in a musical, while Lloyd, described as bringing a “hipster-ish edginess”, triumphed in the best direction category.
Grace Hodgett Young also won best professional debut performance for her turn as aspiring screenwriter Betty in Sunset Boulevard, a revival of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical.
There was also recognition for Sunset Boulevard’s technical team. Jack Knowles, whose lighting was described as “manic” and gave the production horror overtones, took home best lighting design, while Adam Fisher (best sound design), Nathan Amzi and Joe Ransom (best video design) and Alan Williams (best music direction/supervision) were also victorious.
Norton saw off competition from Paapa Essiedu (The Effect) and Andrew Scott (Vanya) to win best performer in a play, while his co-star in A Little Life, Luke Thompson, also took home the best supporting performer gong. Cabaret won two awards: best West End show and Aimee Lou Wood for best takeover performance.
Andrew Scott’s one-man Chekhov, which the Guardian said was “overshadowed by its high concept”, won best play revival. Other productions with one win included Operation Mincemeat – the critically lauded gag-packed musical that started life in fringe theatre – won best new musical, while Jack Wolfe took home best supporting performer in a musical for Next to Normal at the Donmar Warehouse.
Stranger Things: The First Shadow was also recognised, with the Duffer Brothers, Jack Thorne and Kate Trefry’s reimagining of the hit Netflix drama at the Phoenix Theatre (described as “one coup de theatre after another” by the Guardian) winning best new play.
WhatsOnStage’s Darius Thompson and Alex Wood said: “What a year for UK theatre this has been … it is striking just how audiences are keen to lend their support to bold, experimental takes on classic tales – from solo versions of Chekhov to immersive takes on classic musicals, or radical reimaginings of Andrew Lloyd Webber shows. Long may this continue – theatre would not be able to thrive without challenging and forward-thinking creativity.”
The awards also recognised productions away from the West End, with Flowers for Mrs Harris winning best off-West End production and Paul Hart’s revival of a musical version of The Lord of the Rings at the Watermill Theatre, Newbury winning best regional production.
The concert performance of the Phantom of the Opera sequel Love Never Dies won best concert event, while best casting direction (Jill Green, The Little Big Things), best choreography (Matt Cole, Disney Newsies) and best costume design (Ryan Dawson Laight, La Cage aux Folles) rounded out the technical categories.
Nicholas Hytner’s production of Guys and Dolls at the Bridge Theatre, which was described as “a feat of innovative staging”, won best musical revival, best set design (Bunny Christie) and best graphic design (Muse Creative), as the former National Theatre artistic director’s gamble to bring the classic back to London paid off.
Hytner’s replacement at the National Theatre, Rufus Norris, who recently announced he will be stepping down as artistic director after a 10-year tenure, was recognised with a services to UK theatre award.
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