Theater veterans capture Olivier Awards

— Stephen Sondheim and Arthur Miller were big winners Friday at the Olivier Awards, dominating the honors with shows that have been around for decades.

"Merrily We Roll Along," a 20-year-old Sondheim musical only now receiving its professional London debut, won three top Oliviers, including best musical, while a revival of Arthur Miller's 1947 play, "All My Sons," took four prizes in all.

A third multiple winner was the Broadway-bound comedy, "Stones in His Pockets." With two actors playing 15 characters, the show won best comedy for Northern Irish playwright Marie Jones and a surprise best actor prize for Conleth Hill, who beat favorites Michael Gambon ("The Caretaker") and Simon Russell Beale ("Hamlet").

Hill's win was one of numerous surprises at the 25th annual Olivier Awards for achievement in theater, opera, and dance during 2000. The awards, named after the late Laurence Olivier, are the English equivalent of the American Tonys.

"Merrily" has a limited run in a studio-sized theater. It beat out two sizable commercial shows � Andrew Lloyd Webber's "The Beautiful Game" and the latest Cameron Mackintosh venture, "The Witches of Eastwick" � both of which went home empty-handed. "Merrily" took the top prize as well as best musical actor and actress for Daniel Evans and Samantha Spiro, two of the show's three leads.

Best actress in a play went to Julie Walters, the anguished matriarch from last summer's Royal National Theater revival of "All My Sons," who won over Jessica Lange in Eugene O'Neill's "Long Day's Journey Into Night."

The Miller revival won three additional awards for best director (Howard Davies), best set design (William Dudley) and best supporting actor (Ben Daniels).

The BBC Award for best new play went, as expected, to Joe Penhall's "Blue/Orange," which transfers in April to the West End. Best musical production � an award distinct from best new musical � went to a stage version of the film classic, "Singin' in the Rain," which had two separate engagements at the Royal National Theater.

The state-funded National was the day's big winner, taking nine of the 22 awards for which the theater complex was nominated.

Other winners included Ann Reinking and the late Bob Fosse for choreography in the musical "Fosse," and Miles Western for best supporting performance in a musical for his performance, in drag, in the London version of the off-Broadway show "Pageant."

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