- Associated Press - Sunday, April 13, 2014

LONDON (AP) - Irreverent musical “The Book of Mormon” and hit geopolitical drama “Chimerica” were the big winners Sunday at Britain’s Olivier stage awards, on a night when London’s small theaters flexed their substantial muscle.

“The Book of Mormon” - which stormed London just as it earlier wowed New York - won four prizes, including best new musical and best actor in a musical, for Gavin Creel.

Choreographer and co-director Casey Nicholaw said the success of the show - written by “South Park” creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone - came down to its blend of “good contemporary satire and good old-fashioned entertainment.”

Lucy Kirkwood’s “Chimerica,” a play about the entwined fates of China and the United States that opens with a search for the protester photographed standing in front of a tank in Tiananmen Square in 1989, won five trophies including best new play and best director, for Lyndsey Turner.

It was one of several winners to start life in state-subsidized off-West End venues. “Chimerica” opened at north London’s 300-seat Almeida Theatre before transferring to a bigger commercial playhouse.

The same path was followed by an acclaimed revival of Henrik Ibsen’s “Ghosts,” which took prizes for best revival, best actress, for Lesley Manville, and best supporting actor, for Jack Lowden.

“Oh, Larry, where have you been all my life?” said a delighted Manville, clutching her statuette - a bust of acting legend Laurence Olivier.

Director Richard Eyre adapted the play, distilling Ibsen’s 19th-century script down to an intense, audience-draining 90 minutes.

“Suicide, euthanasia, feminism, syphilis, morality - you name it, it’s in the play,” Eyre said, proclaiming Ibsen a “genius.”

Lowden - a rising star who will soon be seen in the BBC’s television adaptation of Tudor saga “Wolf Hall” - said he was thrilled to win for his performance as the syphilitic son of a troubled family in the intense Norwegian family tragedy.

“Any chance you get to play an arrogant, rash … drunk, take it,” Lowden advised his fellow actors.

Sharon D. Clarke was another winner from the subsidized sector, taking the best-actress trophy for “The Amen Corner” at the National Theatre.

The victories are a boost for state-funded arts groups at a time when Britain’s Conservative-led government is cutting all forms of public spending in a bid to reduce the country’s huge deficit.

Eyre said subsidized and commercial theater “feed each other.”

“You can’t have one without the other. … For all the successes, you have to be able to fail, and that is what subsidy gives you.”

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