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'The Mountaintop,' 'Spring Awakening' among Olivier Award winners

March 21, 2010 |  4:30 pm

Mountain This was the year that the Olivier Awards officially went global.

Britain's highest theater honor -- its equivalent of the Tonys on Broadway -- launched the first webcast of its glittery award ceremony from London on Sunday evening. Technically, the live broadcast went smoothly, though the online picture quality was often murky due to the dark-blue stage lighting at the Grosvenor House Hotel.

Online audiences also had to endure an hour-long intermission as live attendees ate their supper. 

The celebrity-packed ceremony recognized stage productions from the 2009 season in the West End and other parts of London.

American playwright Katori Hall's "The Mountaintop" was the surprise winner in the new drama category. The historical play, which speculates on the events of the night before the assassination of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., is expected to open on Broadway later this year.

"The Mountaintop," which was staged at the Trafalgar Studio 1, beat out tough competition in the form of "Enron," "Jerusalem" and "Red."

Weisz Rupert Goold  took home the directing award for Lucy Prebble's "Enron," which was produced by the Royal Court. The play, which recounts the downfall of the infamous U.S. energy-trading company, is also expected to open on Broadway later this year.

The award for dramatic revival went to Tennessee Williams' "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof" at the Novello. The production, which is directed by Debbie Allen and features a cast including James Earl Jones and Phylicia Rashad, ran on Broadway in 2008.

A special Olivier award was presented to Maggie Smith in recognition of her lengthy stage career. The two-time Oscar winning actress received the biggest ovation of the evening.

"I was nominated a few times, and the fact that I never got it, I thought was Larry's revenge," she said, referring to Laurence Olivier, the award's namesake.

Rachel Weisz won the dramatic actress award for her performance as Blanche DuBois in Williams' "A Streetcar Named Desire" at the Donmar. "I never thought I'd be holding one of these in my lifetime," said Weisz. "As my mother would say, the wrapping paper alone would have been enough."

Weisz, who won an Oscar in 2006 for "The Constant Gardener," was nominated alongside Gillian Anderson, Imelda Staunton, Juliet Stevenson and Lorraine Burroughs.

Mark Rylance scooped the dramatic actor award for Jez Butterworth's "Jerusalem," in which he plays a rustic trailer inhabitant who faces an encroaching real estate development in rural England. The British-born, American-raised actor recently starred in Broadway's "Boeing-Boeing," for which he won a Tony in 2008.

Rylance joked about being nominated this year alongside Jude Law, who appeared in "Hamlet." "Someone asked me what it's like to be up against Jude Law," he said.  "I hear it's rather nice."

The other nominees in the category were Jones, James McAvoy, Samuel West and Ken Stott.

In the dramatic supporting categories, Eddie Redmayne won for his role as artist Mark Rothko's young assistant in "Red," by John Logan. Redmayne is currently performing the play on Broadway opposite Alfred Molina and was not present to accept the award.

Ruth Wilson took home the supporting actress award for her role as Stella in "Streetcar." In her acceptance speech, Wilson revealed that she once worked as co-star Weisz's stand-in in "The Constant Gardener."

"Spring Awakening" received the award for new musical. The Tony-winning production was staged by the Novello. The production of "Hello, Dolly!" at the Open Air won for musical revival.

The musical actor award went to Aneurin Barnard for "Spring Awakening," and the actress award went to Samantha Spiro for "Hello, Dolly!"

Iwan Rheon won the musical supporting role award for  "Spring Awakening."

"Wicked" took the audience award, which was a new category this year and was voted on by the public.

The award for new comedy went to Michael Wynne's "The Priory," an ensemble piece about a group of thirtysomethings on vacation that was staged by the Royal Court.

Unlike the Tonys, the Oliviers also recognize opera and dance productions. The award for new opera production went to the Royal Opera House's staging of Wagner's "Tristan and Isolde." Soprano Nina Stemme, who played Isolde, won the award for outstanding achievement in opera.

The Rambert Dance Company won the Olivier for outstanding achievement in dance, while "Goldberg: The Brandstrup-Rojo Project" won for new dance production.

Among the technical categories, the award for costume design went to "Priscilla, Queen of the Desert -- the Musical." Winners Tim Chappel and Lizzy Gardiner received Oscars in 1995 for their costumes for the original film version. The choreography award went to Stephen Mear for "Hello, Dolly!"

A special achievement award went to the veteran West End producer Michael Codron.

The evening's notable attendees and presenters included Tom Stoppard, Elaine Paige and Kim Cattrall, who sported a new, peculiar English accent.

Also in attendance was actress Joan Plowright, who was married to Olivier from 1961 to his death in 1989.

-- David Ng

Photo (top):  David Harewood and Lorraine Burroughs in the Olivier-winning play "The Mountaintop" by Katori Hall. Credit: Trafalgar Studio 1

Photo (bottom): Rachel Weisz arrives at the Olivier Awards. Credit: Joel Ryan / Associated Press

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