LONDON — A revival of “Cabaret” that the London theater world has been talking about since its opening in December, on Sunday it won the Olivier Awards, the British equivalent of the Tonys.
Starring Eddie Redmayne in his first London role in ten years, ‘Cabaret’ took home seven awards at a ceremony at London’s Royal Albert Hall. The picks 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.
British newspaper critics sometimes struggled to find superlatives to describe ‘cabaret’. Writing in The Evening Standard, Nick Curtis simply summed it up: “Wow. Just wow.”
Matt Wolf, who reviewed the show for DailyExpertNews, said Frecknall had made a “remarkable foray into musical theater” after several acclaimed stage productions here, including Chekhov’s “Three Sisters” and Tennessee Williams’ “Summer and Smoke.” “Frecknall pulls us into a hedonic milieu, only to make us think about the horrors of life nearly three hours later,” he added.
The musical has received as much attention for its staging as its performances, with audiences entering the Playhouse Theater through a side door, only to find that the building has been transformed to look like a 1920s Berlin nightclub. Cardholders – some of whom criticized sky-high ticket prices – have to make their way through a labyrinth of hallways full of dancers and drinks to get to their seats.
Redmayne received special praise from the actors in the original cast. Writing in The Guardian, Arifa Akbar said he was “electric” and added: “He puts on an immense, physical feat, both muscular and delicate, from his curled limbs to his tightly expressive fingertips.”
The other big winner on Sunday was “Life of Pi” at Wyndham’s Theatre, Lolita Chakrabarti’s adaptation of Yann Martel’s novel about a zookeeper’s son who, after a shipping accident, is trapped 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 an audience-friendly award for Best Supporting Actor for the seven puppeteers who bring a 44-pound puppet tiger to life on stage.
Reviewers had often singled out those puppeteers for praise. Dominic Cavendish, writing in The Daily Telegraph, said they made the tiger exude “a watchful wickedness and innate grandeur” as it “goes from brutal stealthy threat to personality on its own.”
Some other shows did win prizes at the Oliviers. “Back to the Future: the Musical” at the Adelphi Theater, a show that has captured attention for its flying car as well as its songs, won Best New Musical, beating out shows including “Get Up! Get Up! The Bob Marley Musical ‘ and the London debut of ‘Frozen’.
Best comedy went to ‘Pride and Prejudice* (*sort of)’ at the Criterion Theatre, a quick and loose retelling of Jane Austen’s novel, which closed in February due to 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 won awards for best reprise and best actress in a play for Sheila Atim. That 70-minute one-act play, about a couple in love, was a hit last summer when British theater came back to life after multiple lockdowns.