Top billing for 'Hairspray' at Olivier Awards as cult classic crowns a remarkable year

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The Independent Culture

The stars of London's West End turned out in force last night for the annual Laurence Olivier Awards. The musical Hairspray continued its domination of the gongs circuit, adding four Oliviers to its cache of eight Tonys.

The American teen drama, which portrays an Ugly Betty-esque teenager's rags to riches success story set against racial tension in Sixties American suburbia, won four awards at the ceremony at the Grosvenor House Hotel in London, including best new musical, best actress in a musical for the school- leaver Leanne Jones, best actor in a musical for a cross-dressing Michael Ball and best performance in a supporting role in a musical for Tracie Bennett.

The stage adaptation of John Waters' hit 1988 film had been nominated for an unprecedented 11 gongs at Britain's top theatre awards, and looked set to land the highest number of Oliviers won in a single year. In 1980, a production of Nicholas Nickleby won six awards.

The West End has undergone a commercial renaissance recently thanks in part to Britain's love of large-scale musical productions such as Hairspray, The Sound of Music and Lord of the Rings, which have brought in a record number of theatregoers. Last year, 13.5 million tickets were sold for West End shows. Hairspray plays eight times a week to sell-out audiences at the Shaftesbury Theatre and is thought to have generated £10m in revenue. A remake of the film, starring John Travolta and Michelle Pfeiffer, last year took $27m on its first weekend, a record for a film musical.

This year's best actor award went to Chiwetel Ejiofor for his lead performance in Othello, despite hotly-tipped performances from fellow Shakespearean heavyweights Patrick Stewart and Sir Ian McKellen for their respective title roles in Macbeth and King Lear.

The English Patient star Kristin Scott Thomas, meanwhile, beat competition from Anne-Marie Duff's portrayal of Saint Joan of Arc to scoop up the best actress award for The Royal Court's production of The Seagull.

Further winners were Rory Kinnear for his portrayal of Sir Fopling Flutter in The Man of Mode and Tom Hiddleston for his performance in Cymbeline. Ayub Khan-Din picked up this year's best new comedy award for Rafta Rafta and Rupert Goold landed best director for Macbeth at the Gielgud.

The 32nd annual Laurence Olivier Awards, London's equivalent of the Tonys and the UK's most prestigious stage award, also paid tribute to the West End legend Andrew Lloyd Webber by awarding him this year's special award, given for overall career achievement.

The winners


Chiwetel Ejiofor for Othello at the Donmar Warehouse

*BEST ACTRESS : Kristin Scott Thomas in The Seagull, Jerwood Theatre

*BEST ACTRESS IN A MUSICAL: Leanne Jones for Hairspray at the Shaftesbury

*BEST ACTOR IN A MUSICAL: Michael Ball for Hairspray at the Shaftesbury

*BEST NEW PLAY: A Disappearing Number by Simon McBurney at the Barbican

*BEST NEW MUSICAL: Hairspray, based upon the John Waters film

*BEST NEW COMEDY : Rafta Rafta by Ayub Khan-Din at the Lyttelton

*BEST DIRECTOR: Rupert Goold for Macbeth at the Gielgud