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'Springer,’ musicals lead 2004 Oliviers

Awards honor London theater, opera, dance
/ Source: The Associated Press

“Jerry Springer — The Opera” and two past Broadway musicals, “Ragtime” and “Pacific Overtures,” led the field Thursday for this year’s Laurence Olivier Awards, honoring achievement in London theater, opera and dance.

All three musicals received eight nominations apiece, while the London version of Tony-winner “Thoroughly Modern Millie” had five, including nods for co-stars Maureen Lipman and Amanda Holden, who plays Millie.

“Millie” will compete for best musical against “Ragtime,” which has closed, and “Jerry Springer — The Opera,” the lone British entry. “Jerry” is currently running on the West End and will debut on Broadway later this year. Michael Brandon, the Brooklyn-born actor who plays the talk show host, is up for best actor in a musical.

The eight nods for “Pacific Overtures” were fairly surprising, since the Stephen Sondheim revival got mixed reviews during its limited run at the Donmar Warehouse last summer. The show is up for outstanding musical production (a category for revivals), against “High Society” and two Andrew Lloyd Webber revivals, “Tell Me on a Sunday” and “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.”

Brandon competes against his co-star, David Bedella, who plays the rambunctious talk show’s emcee, and Graham Bickley and Kevyn Morrow, both from “Ragtime.” Also nominated for best actress in a musical are Alison Jiear, who plays one of Springer’s more vocal guests, and past Olivier recipient Maria Friedman, who was a stirring Mother in “Ragtime.”

But in a fairly overt snub, Denise Van Outen, who spent 10 months alone on stage singing Lloyd Webber’s song cycle about a lovesick Englishwoman in Manhattan in “Tell Me on a Sunday,” was not nominated.

‘Democracy’ garners attentionAmong the plays, the obvious front-runner is Michael Frayn’s highly praised “Democracy,” about German chancellor Willy Brandt and his aide-de-camp, Gunter Guillaume, who was revealed to be a spy. Frayn’s new play goes up against two other National Theatre entries: Kwame Kwei-Armah’s “Elmina’s Kitchen” and Martin McDonagh’s astonishingly fine “The Pillowman.” Terry Johnson’s “Hitchcock Blonde” completes the lineup.

Eileen Atkins and Helen Mirren, who co-starred in the movie “Gosford Park,” were nominated for their performances in two National productions — “Honour” and “Mourning Becomes Electra,” respectively. Other nominees for best actress include Kristin Scott Thomas, who made a memorable West End debut last spring in “Three Sisters”; Ann Mitchell, for “Through the Leaves”; and rising young star Kelly Reilly, who has the title role in “After Miss Julie.”

Roger Allam, who plays Brandt in “Democracy,” is up for actor in a play. His competition includes Kenneth Branagh, making his National debut in “Edmond”; Greg Hicks, who had the title role in Shakespeare’s “Coriolanus”; Matthew Kelly, for “Of Mice and Men”; and Welshman Michael Sheen, who gave a glittering performance as Caligula in a rare revival of the Albert Camus play.

Michael Grandage, a former actor who directed “Caligula,” is up for best director. Unlike Broadway’s Tonys, the Oliviers put directors of plays and musicals in the same category. So Grandage’s competitors are all from the world of musicals: Stafford Arima (”Ragtime”); Stewart Lee (”Jerry Springer — The Opera”); and Gary Griffin (”Pacific Overtures”).

Among the odder omissions for nominations were the National’s revivals of “Jumpers,” “Henry V” and “Three Sisters” (a separate production from the Scott Thomas one). Such acclaimed performances as Tom Hollander in “A Hotel in Amsterdam” and Eve Best in “Mourning Becomes Electra” also were ignored.

American dance buffs will welcome the inclusion of veteran choreographer Paul Taylor in the best new dance production category. Taylor is up for his stirring piece, “Promethean Fire.”

Winners will be announced at a dinner ceremony Feb. 22 at the London Hilton Hotel.