February 7, 2011 / 2:51 PM / in 7 years

UK's top theatre awards target Tonys with revamp

LONDON (Reuters) - Britain's top stage accolades the Olivier Awards aim to take on the glitz and clout of the U.S. Tony Awards with a major revamp and new MasterCard sponsorship deal, organizers said on Monday.

Coinciding with this year's nominations, which Andrew Lloyd Webber's "Love Never Dies" leads with seven, the Society of London Theater (SOLT) announced a partnership with the BBC that ensures television and radio coverage of this year's prize ceremony on March 13.

The awards will be held at the Theater Royal Drury Lane, as opposed to in a hotel, with a full orchestra on stage and a red carpet event building up to the ceremony.

"We have felt constrained by being in a hotel scenario without the ability to reflect this talent well enough," said SOLT president Nica Burns, when asked whether the Oliviers were serious about trying to take on the Tonys.

"We do feel we can improve on what's happened before," she told reporters. "It's about making it much more of an event ... and really raising the stakes and reminding people of the great talent in British theater."

Olivier organizers pointed out that the Tony Awards in New York recently featured performances by artists of the stature of Elton John and Liza Minnelli, and, while stars of the screen do grace the Oliviers, the aim is to make it a glitzier affair.

The three-year sponsorship deal with MasterCard, the value of which was not disclosed, follows the recent publication of London theater ticket sales which showed a rise in revenues despite a small fall in attendances.

"We are a ray of sunshine in a grim world," Burns joked. "We've now had seven years of continuous growth. How brilliant is that?"

SOLT figures published last month showed London theater revenues rose 1.5 percent to a record 512 million pounds ($817 million), while attendances fell 0.8 percent to 14.2 million.

LLOYD WEBBER LEADS PACK

"Phantom of the Opera" sequel Love Never Dies was shortlisted for awards in seven categories -- best new musical, best actress, actor and supporting role in a musical, best lighting design, best set design and best costume design.

The National's revival of Terence Rattigan's "After the Dance" has six nominations, one ahead of the Donmar's "King Lear" and musical "Legally Blonde" which each have five. The best actor prize will be contested by Roger Allam ("Henry IV Parts 1 & 2"), Derek Jacobi (King Lear), Rory Kinnear ("Hamlet"), Mark Rylance ("La Bete") and David Suchet ("All My Sons").

In the running for best actress are Tracie Bennett ("End of the Rainbow"), Nancy Carroll ("After the Dance"), Tamsin Greig ("The Little Dog Laughed") and Sophie Thompson ("Clybourne Park").

This year sees the return of the Radio 2 Audience Award, renamed as the BBC Radio 2 Olivier Audience Award, in which members of the public vote for their favorite long-running West End production from a shortlist of 18 shows.

Singer Elaine Paige will present the award at the ceremony with the cast from last year's winning show "Wicked."

Reporting by Mike Collett-White, editing by Paul Casciato

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