Legally Blonde scoops Laurence Olivier Awards

Sheridan Smith won the award for best musical actress

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Legally Blonde star Sheridan Smith has been crowned the queen of the West End after winning best musical actress at the Laurence Olivier Awards in London.

Smith won the award for her role in the show, based on the 2001 film starring Reese Witherspoon.

Her co-star Jill Halfpenny won best supporting role in a musical, while the show also won best new musical.

The National Theatre's revival of playwright Terence Rattigan's After the Dance won four awards.

They included best actress for Nancy Carroll, best revival and best actor in a supporting role for Adrian Scarborough.

A satire on the "bright young things" of the 1920s, After the Dance had rarely been staged since its short original run in 1939 and was a revelation to many when it opened at the National last June.

Those two productions were the biggest winners at the most prestigious ceremony in the London theatre calendar, held at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane.

Presented annually by the Society of London Theatre, the ceremony's winners are decided by a panel of industry professionals and members of the public.

In an emotional acceptance speech, Sheridan Smith thanked Legally Blonde's US creators for letting a "chav play an American rich girl".

The 29-year-old, from Epworth, Lincolnshire, won the role after being spotted by the show's director Jerry Mitchell at the same ceremony three years ago.

She is also known for her roles on TV in The Royle Family, Two Pints of Lager and a Packet of Crisps and Gavin and Stacey.

Ramin Karimloo and Sierra Boggess in Love Never Dies Phantom of the Opera sequel Love Never Dies was up for seven awards, but won none

Smith left Legally Blonde in January after 14 months and has moved on to Terence Rattigan's Flare Path. She is also hotly tipped to star in a new stage version of Bridget Jones' Diary.

In other awards, Roger Allam was named best actor for playing Falstaff in Shakespeare's Henry IV at the Globe Theatre, beating favourites Sir Derek Jacobi and Rory Kinnear.

David Thaxton was named best actor in a musical for Passion at the Donmar Warehouse, while Howard Davies won best director for The White Guard at the Lyttelton.

Andrew Lloyd Webber's Phantom of the Opera sequel Love Never Dies led the field before the ceremony with seven nominations - but won none.

Clybourne Park, about 1950s US race relations, written by Bruce Norris, was named best new play. The entertainment award went to The Railway Children, which featured real steam trains when it was presented at Waterloo Station.

Accepting the BBC Radio 2 audience award for We Will Rock You, Queen guitarist Brian May hit out at theatre critics who panned the musical, based on the band's hits, when it opened nine years ago.

Songwriter Stephen Sondheim, who received a special award, discusses his career

Sculptor Antony Gormley picked up the outstanding achievement in dance award for his work on the set design of Babel at Sadler's Wells, for which he created aluminium frames that were used on stage.

The same show was also named best new dance production.

In one of the biggest shocks, a production of La Boheme by OperaUpClose, which began at a 35-seat pub theatre, beat the Royal Opera House, London Coliseum and Young Vic to the award for best new opera.

The award for best musical revival went to Stephen Sondheim's Into The Woods, staged by the Regent's Park Open Air Theatre.

At the ceremony's climax, Sondheim received a special prize in recognition of his contribution to theatre.

Sir Cameron Mackintosh described the composer and lyricist as a "true legend", paying tribute to his "unique theatrical muscle".

"His sense of theatrical adventure knows no bounds, his subjects... have shown us all no subjects are taboo," Sir Cameron said.

Singer Michael Ball and actress Imelda Staunton hosted the ceremony.

Benedict Cumberbatch, Rupert Everett, Amanda Holden and Sir Patrick Stewart were among the stars who presented awards.

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