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Amber Riley performing at the Olivier Awards 2017 with Mastercard (Photo: Jeff Spicer/Getty Images)

10 stunning moments from previous Olivier Awards ceremonies

Robin Johnson

By Robin Johnson First Published 28 March 2019, Last Updated 29 March 2019

They’re only a week and a half away – and our excitement levels are reaching their peak. The Olivier Awards 2019 with Mastercard ceremony looms large, promising a night of dazzling glamour, celebrity stardust, and world-class performances from London’s glittering array of stars. It’s going to be a night to remember.

After all, Olivier Award ceremonies have provided a catalogue of unforgettable moments. There’s nothing quite like experiencing the ultimate toast to London theatre live in the flesh – so here are 10 stunning moments from recent ceremonies that got more than a few smiles beaming, and hairs standing on backs of necks, for those in attendance.

If you’d like to witness this year’s Olivier Awards in person, tickets to theatre’s biggest night are still available, exclusively for Mastercard cardholders, via priceless.com.

Looking for more Olivier Awards highlights? You’ll find them all on the Official London Theatre YouTube channel – head on over to re-watch past ceremony highlights, and subscribe for the latest clips!

Spectacular opening numbers

In case you hadn’t noticed, the Royal Albert Hall isn’t exactly… small. The ratio of performers on stage to 4,000-strong audiences means that a monumental performance to open the show is nothing less than a necessity. And this is where the Olivier Awards always delivers: spectacle in abundance.

Last year we were treated to the iconic Hamilton opening number, rapping their way onto stage to be greeted with their customary acclaim. And the year before, we enjoyed a sun-filled trip to Yorkshire (below) – courtesy of Gary Barlow, Tim Firth and musical The Girls.

The opening number is always an electrifying moment for the whole crowd, paving the way for a glorious ceremony ahead. It’s well worth experiencing in person.

Surprise speeches

Look, we’ve all been there. We’ve all practised in the mirror, shower or bathtub – hairbrush in hand, and winning smile shining.

But for the lucky few award winners, the moment of realising our imaginary award acceptance speeches finally arrive. And along with the expected expressions of gratitude, there’re always more than a few surprises.

Last year, Hamilton’s Alex Lacamoire, accepting the Outstanding Achievement in Music award for himself and co-conspirator Lin-Manuel Miranda, delivered Miranda’s unique “in absentia” speech in style – check it out.

Melodies aside, many a brilliant story has been told at the podium. Jez Butterworth, for example, told us about his personal mission to win a second Olivier Award statuette – borne from an unfortunate incident part of his first fell off! Thankfully, he delivered with The Ferryman last year (though we hope it’s covered in bubble wrap right now).

And then there’s the (completely unprepared) 2017 winner Anthony Boyle (Harry Potter And The Cursed Child), whose short-but-sweet speech ran the full gamut of emotions we’d all have in such a moment.

Who knows what this year’s speeches will contain? Viewers should expect the unexpected.

Ovation-worthy showstoppers

Oh boy – we can still feel the goosebumps. There are show-stopping moments galore amongst the pantheons of previous Olivier Awards performances.

In the last couple of years alone, there are plenty of examples. Sheila Atim, who claimed the Best Supporting Actress in a Musical award for her role in Girl From The North Country, had proven beforehand just how, when she sent the 4,000-strong Royal Albert Hall audience jumping to their feet in clamour. A beautiful voice was wedded to a beautiful song – and the result was spectacular.

Oh, and speaking of unforgettable moments… step forwards, Amber Riley of Dreamgirls, performing in 2017. Yep, I’m still applauding.

Oh, go on then, while we’re treating you: check out Janie Dee, performing I’m Still Here from the award-winning Follies. Just… just wow.

Suffice to say, we could go on! Check out the YouTube channel for plenty more.

A celebration of all theatre

The Olivier Awards champions London theatre in every form: from plays and musicals, to its distinguished dance and opera scenes.

A prime example was when Sir Matthew Bourne’s Olivier-winning show The Red Shoes provided a seemingly effortless – but utterly sumptuous – performance at the 2017 ceremony. So much expression through no words – it’s impossible not to admire.

Remarkable tributes

One highlight of each year’s proceedings is the Special Award, which provides the opportunity to pay tribute to a theatrical pioneer.

There have been so many to celebrate – previous luminaries have included the likes of David Lan, Kenneth Branagh (video from 2017’s ceremony included below), Nicholas Hytner, Michael Frayn, Gillian Lynne, Maggie Smith, Alan Ayckbourn… the list goes on.

This year, the Oliviers will be doing the same for the incomparable Matthew Bourne – and the celebration promises to be extraordinary. Just you wait!

Fitting finales

And when the Olivier Awards closes the show, it does so in style.

Last year, for example, the Oliviers reunited stars from the history of Joseph And The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat – including Jason Donovan, Linzi Hateley, Lee Mead, Preeya Kalidas, Joe McElderry, Danielle Hope, and one Philip Schofield – in a unique moment in honour of the 50th anniversary of the show.

Who knows what’s closing the show this year? You’ll find out at the Royal Albert Hall.

But in case you can’t make it…

Fear not – there’ll be plenty of amazing moments on the night you can enjoy from the comfort of your own home. Check out all the ways you can watch, listen to and enjoy the ceremony right here.

And, of course, OfficialLondonTheatre.com will be there on the evening to round up the very best of the action. So get your swankiest threads on, pour yourself a glass of champagne – and we’ll see you there!


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alan ayckbourn alex lacamoire amber riley anthony boyle danielle hope david lan gary barlow gillian lynne janie dee jason donovan jez butterworth joe mcelderry joseph and the amazing technicolor dreamcoat kenneth branagh lee mead lin-manuel miranda linzi hateley maggie smith matthew bourne michael frayn nicholas hytner Olivier Awards philip schofield preeya khalidas sheila atim the red shoes tim firth

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