LONDON — A revival of “Cabaret” that has been the talk of London’s theater world since opening in December, on Sunday swept the Olivier Awards, Britain’s equivalent of the Tonys.
Starring Eddie Redmayne in his first London role in a decade, “Cabaret” collected seven awards during a ceremony at London’s Royal Albert Hall. Its haul included best musical revival, best actor in a musical (Redmayne), best actress in a musical for Jessie Buckley as Sally Bowles, and best director for Rebecca Frecknall.
Britain’s newspaper reviewers sometimes struggled for superlatives to describe “Cabaret.” Nick Curtis, writing in The Evening Standard, summed it up with a simple: “Wow. Just wow.”
Matt Wolf, reviewing the show for The New York Times, said that Frecknall had made a “remarkable entry into musical theater” after several lauded stage productions here, including of Chekhov’s “Three Sisters” and Tennessee Williams’s “Summer and Smoke.” “Frecknall pulls us into a hedonistic milieu, only to send us out nearly three hours later reminded of life’s horrors,” he added.
The musical has gained as much attention for its staging as its performances, with audiences made to enter the Playhouse Theater through a side door, only to discover the building has been transformed to look like a 1920s Berlin nightclub. Ticketholders — some of whom criticized sky-high ticket prices — have to work their way through a labyrinth of corridors filled with dancers and drinks to get to their seats.
Of the actors in its original cast, Redmayne won particular plaudits. Arifa Akbar, writing in The Guardian, said he was “electric,” adding: “He gives an immense, physicalized performance, both muscular and delicate, from his curled limbs to his tautly expressive fingertips.”
The other big winner on Sunday was “Life of Pi” at Wyndham’s Theater, Lolita Chakrabarti’s adaptation of Yann Martel’s novel about a zookeeper’s son who, after a shipping accident, is stuck on a lifeboat at sea with only animals for company. It took five awards including best new play and best actor for Hiran Abeysekera, as well as a crowd-pleasing best supporting actor award for the seven puppeteers who bring a 44-pound puppet tiger to life onstage.
Reviewers had often singled out those puppeteers for praise. Dominic Cavendish, writing in The Daily Telegraph, said they made the tiger exude “a watchful malevolence and innate magnificence,” as he “moves from brute prowling threat to personality in his own right.”
Some other shows did manage to get prizes at the Oliviers. “Back to the Future: the Musical” at the Adelphi Theater, a show that has grabbed attention for its flying car as much as its songs, won best new musical, beating shows including “Get Up! Stand Up! The Bob Marley Musical” and the London debut of “Frozen.”
The best comedy play went to “Pride and Prejudice* (*sort of)” at the Criterion Theater, a fast and loose retelling of Jane Austen’s novel, which closed in February citing a lack of audiences returning to the West End.
The other notable winner was a revival of “Constellations” by the Donmar Warehouse at the Vaudeville Theater, which took awards for best revival and best actress in a play for Sheila Atim. That 70-minute, one-act play, about a couple falling in and out of love, was a hit last summer as British theater came back to life after multiple lockdowns.