Accolades for best musicals confound the critics

Olivier Awards: Top prize for `Tommy' despite early closure as debate grows over role of opinion-formers
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The Independent Online
Two musicals which graphically illustrate the often huge divide between critical acclaim and public taste received major recognition last night at the Laurence Olivier awards.

First, there was vindication for Sir Cameron Mackintosh, whose much troubled musical Martin Guerre won the best new musical award. It also won best theatre choreographer award for Bob Avian. The show was revamped after poor notices, but Sir Cameron always claimed the public had warmed to the show more than the critics.

Tommy, a musical adaptation of The Who's rock opera, won the outstanding musical production award. Its director, Des McAnuff, won best director, and it also won best lighting designer for Chris Parry. This was one example of where even the theatregoers on the Olivier panel chose a show which the public generally did not warm to in sufficient numbers. Tommy is due to close shortly.

In a glittering night at theatre's premier awards ceremony, the actress Janet McTeer completed an extraordinary week, winning the Laurence Olivier Award for best actress for her rivetting portrayal of Nora in Ibsen's A Doll's House, days after American Equity cancelled the production's transfer to Broadway.

American Equity agreed to Miss McTeer going, but refused to take three of her male co-stars saying the parts could be played by American actors. Miss McTeer won the best actress award, beating off competition from Vanessa Redgrave, Diana Rigg and Eileen Atkins.

But the play which scooped a hatful of awards was the National Theatre's Stanley, Pam Gem's play about the artist Stanley Spencer, winning best play, best actor for Antony Sher, best supporting actress for Deborah Findlay, and best set designer for Tim Hatley.

Sir Richard Eyre, the departing director of the National Theatre, received the Laurence Olivier Award for special achievement.

There was well-deserved triumph for ART, the poignant comedy by Yashima Reza, which won best comedy.

Best actor in a musical was Robert Lindsay for his Fagin in Oliver, while Maria Friedman won best actress in a musical for her performance in Passion. Trevor Eve won the award for best supporting actor for his role in Uncle Vanya, and Clive Rowe was best supporting performance in a musical for Guys and Dolls. Tim Goodchild was best costume designer for The Relapse at the Royal Shakespeare Company.

The best new dance production was English National Ballet's Cinderella, the outstanding achievement in dance award went to Rambert Dance for their season at the London Coliseum; the best new opera production was English National Opera's Tristan And Isolde, and the outstanding achievement in opera went to Elgar Howarth for conducting ENO's Die Soldaten and The Prince of Homburg.