- Associated Press - Sunday, March 13, 2011

LONDON (AP) - Frothy, film-inspired funfest “Legally Blonde: The Musical” won three big prizes at London’s Laurence Olivier theater awards Sunday, while Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Love Never Dies” went home empty-handed despite seven nominations.

“Legally Blonde” was named best new musical at Britain’s equivalent of Broadway’s Tonys. Star Sheridan Smith was crowned best actress in a musical, and Jill Halfpenny took the prize for supporting performer in a musical.

The story of a California girl who proves her mettle at Harvard Law School _ based on the 2001 Reese Witherspoon movie _ received lukewarm reviews on Broadway and closed in October 2008 after 595 performances. But London’s often curmudgeonly critics greeted it as a burst of sunshine in the rainy West End when it opened here in January 2010.

Smith said its appeal was obvious.

“It’s credit crunch, terrible weather, and all you want to do is have two and a half hours of escapism,” she said.

Lloyd Webber’s sequel to monster hit “Phantom of the Opera” had more nominations than any other show, but won nothing. The musical opened a year ago to mixed reviews, and recently announced a series of cast changes as it fights to match “Phantom’s” success.

Productions from the state-subsidized National Theatre, Donmar Warehouse and Royal Court Theatre dominated the prizes _ just as deep government cuts are about to slash funding to the arts in Britain.

The best new play award went to “Clybourne Park,” a provocative comedy about race relations and property prices in Chicago by American playwright Bruce Norris. It was first staged in London at the Donmar and is currently running in the West End.

The National Theatre’s “After the Dance,” a play about 1920s “pretty young things” sinking into drink and despair, won four prizes, including best revival, costume design, best supporting actor for Adrian Scarborough, and best actress for Nancy Carroll.

“If I don’t go into labor in the next 24 hours, I’ll be amazed,” said a delighted Carroll, who is due to give birth in 12 days.

“After the Dance” is a long-neglected 1939 play by Terence Rattigan, a giant of mid 20th-century theater who is experiencing a resurgent reputation on the centenary of his birth.

Howard Davies won the best director prize for another play at the National, “The White Guard.” The adaptation of Mikhail Bulgakov’s novel of Soviet upheaval also won the set and lighting awards.

Roger Allam was named best actor in a play for his performance as drunken knight Falstaff in “Henry IV Parts 1 and 2” at Shakespeare’s Globe. He joked that the role of the rotund buffoon is “the middle-aged man’s Hamlet.”

David Thaxton took the musical actor prize for Stephen Sondheim’s “Passion” at the Donmar Warehouse.

A production of kids’ favorite “The Railway Children,” atmospherically staged at London’s Waterloo railway station, was named best entertainment.

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