Hairspray gets 11 Olivier nominations

February 6, 2008 8:13:40 PM PST
"Hairspray," the bouncy, bouffant American musical, dominated the contest for the 2008 Laurence Olivier Awards, with 11 nominations including best actress for 22-year-old star Leanne Jones. Three Shakespearean superstars squared off for acting honors on the Olivier shortlist, announced in London on Thursday. Ian McKellen's King Lear, Patrick Stewart's Macbeth and Chiwetel Ejiofor's Othello all earned nominations for best actor in a play, alongside John Simm for the Norwegian comedy "Elling" and Mark Rylance for the farce "Boeing-Boeing."

The Olivier awards, Britain's equivalent of Broadway's Tonys, honor achievements in London theater, musicals, dance and opera.

Jones, the "Hairspray" star, made her professional stage debut as hefty but irrepressible Tracy Turnblad who dreams of appearing on a local TV dance show in 1960s Baltimore.

"It feels amazing, very surreal," said Jones, a recent stage school grad who was working in a bank call center when she got the part. "The biggest news of my life came when I heard I had got 'Hairspray.' My life has changed in every single way it could possibly have changed."

"Hairspray" opened in London in October, five years after the musical adaptation of John Waters' 1988 cult film made its Broadway debut. It went on to win eight Tony Awards.

Stage star Michael Ball was nominated for best actor in a musical for his cross-dressing turn as Tracy's mother, Edna.

"Parade," a musical about crime and punishment in the early 20th-century American South, received seven nominations, including best new musical.

Other new-musical contenders include "The Lord of the Rings," which opened in June to mixed reviews. The $24 million adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien's fantasy saga - the most expensive production in West End history - gained five nominations, including lighting, set design, costume and sound.

"The Drowsy Chaperone," a Broadway hit but a West End flop that closed after two months, also got five nominations, including best new musical, best actress for Summer Strallen and best actor for Bob Martin.

Honors were widely spread in the drama categories. There were five nominations for Stewart's "Macbeth" at the Gielgud Theatre, and four for the Donmar Warehouse staging of "Othello," starring Ejiofor and Ewan McGregor.

Best-actress drama nominees are Anne-Marie Duff for "Saint Joan," Kelly Reilly for "Othello," Kristin Scott Thomas for "The Seagull," Fiona Shaw for "Happy Days" and Penelope Wilton for "John Gabriel Borkman."

Contenders for best new play are the National Theatre's "War Horse," adapted from Michael Morpurgo's novel about a World War I battle horse; the Young Vic's adaptation of D.B.C. Pierre's novel "Vernon God Little"; Nicholas Wright's study of a journalist, "The Reporter"; and theater company Complicite's take on the philosophy of mathematics, "A Disappearing Number."

The winners will be announced at a ceremony in London on March 9.