LONDON — “Dear Evan Hansen,” the hit musical about an anxious teenager who takes advantage of a fateful encounter with a schoolmate, was one of the big winners at the Olivier Awards on Sunday.
It took home three Oliviers, the British equivalent of the Tony Awards, including best new musical for its production at the Noël Coward Theater and best actor in a musical for Sam Tutty, for his widely praised performance in the lead role, his West End debut.
The Oliviers are normally awarded each April in a lavish ceremony at Royal Albert Hall in London, but this year the event was delayed because of the pandemic, and most of the event was prerecorded.
“Dear Evan Hansen” was not the only production to win three awards. “& Juliet,” a jukebox musical that uses chart-topping hits by Britney Spears and Ariana Grande to retell “Romeo & Juliet” also won three awards, as did “Emilia” at the Vaudeville Theater, a romp about the life of Emilia Bassano, one of Britain’s first female poets. It was honored for best entertainment or comedy, best sound design and best costume design.
Despite those big successes, this year’s Oliviers were notable for the variety of winners. “Leopoldstadt,” Tom Stoppard’s play about Jewish life in mid-20th-century Vienna, won for best new play. “This may be the Stoppard play for people who don’t normally cotton to Stoppard,” wrote Ben Brantley, in a laudatory review for The New York Times when the show opened in January. It had to shutter just two months later because of the coronavirus.
A perhaps more surprising winner was “Cyrano de Bergerac” at the Playhouse Theater, named best revival ahead of Marianne Elliott and Miranda Cromwell’s “Death of a Salesman.” That play, starring Wendell Pierce as Willy Lomax, received five nominations in March.
In the end, it only secured two awards, with Elliott and Cromwell winning best director for a production that brought race into the heart of Arthur Miller’s play, and Sharon D. Clarke winning best actress for her performance as Linda, Willy’s wife. Ben Brantley, in his review for The New York Times, called Clarke’s portrayal “magnificent.” She “transforms a character often portrayed as a whimpering doormat into a strong, self-aware woman who knows the choices she has made and is determined to honor them,” he wrote.
Other notable winners included Andrew Scott, who took home the best actor award for his performance as a self-obsessed actor in Noël Coward’s “Present Laughter” at the Old Vic. “He does not so much play the part of the vainglorious actor Garry Essendine as grasp it around the waist and do a hot-to-trot tango with it,” Ann Treneman wrote of Scott in a review for The Times of London. “His panache fills the entire theater.”
The Oliviers came at a hopeful moment for audiences in London. On Wednesday, the National Theater reopened for its first production since the coronavirus forced its closure in March. “Death of England: Delroy,” a one-man show about a Black man examining his British identity, is being performed to a socially-distanced audience wearing face masks. Several West End productions are also scheduled to return in coming weeks under the same conditions, including “Six,” the hit musical about the ill-fated wives of King Henry VIII.
But coronavirus cases are soaring in Britain, which could change the outlook for performances. On Sunday, Italy’s government closed theaters, concert halls and movie theaters until Nov. 24 because of rising cases. In France, theaters are having to start shows in the early evening because of a 9 p.m. curfew.
The pandemic was referenced during the Olivier ceremony. “Those of us who believe in the theater also believe in its resilience,” said Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, in a prerecorded speech. “Please remain resilient,” she added: “We need you, and we’ve missed you.”