Perth's feather-fest in the central city last summer was judged Australia's joint best special event at the Helpmann Awards last night.
The Place des Anges spectacle showered the CBD in a doona of angel feathers during the Perth International Arts Festival last February. It shared the award with the Australian Opera's Sydney Harbour production of La Traviata, for which star WA soprano Emma Matthews won best female lead.
Other winners, announced at the Sydney Opera House, included Tim Minchin for the second bout of his orchestral comedy tour, Iain Grandage as best music direction for Meow Meow's Little Match Girl and Irish singer Orla Boylan's best-supporting role in Elektra, the PIAF production from WA Opera and ThinIce.
Boylan's success was the only joy for WA Opera, which had been nominated across eight categories for Elektra and The Tales of Hoffmann. Perth children's theatre company Barking Gecko had its hopes dashed, too, when its five nominations for The Red Tree and Driving Into Walls did not translate into a single gong.
A Chorus Line, which opens in Perth on October 20, was best musical. But Grey Gardens picked up the most in the musical theatre categories, three, including a best supporting role for Nancye Hayes.
Usual suspects Cate Blanchett and Robyn Nevin each picked up an award, Blanchett for her lead role in Sydney Theatre Company's Gross und Klein, and Nevin as best supporting actress in Belvoir's Summer of the Seventeenth Doll.
The best actor award went to Paul Capsis, whose show Angela's Kitchen was also judged best new work. The new opera Moby Dick, an international production involving the State Opera Company of South Australia, won three awards.
Kylie Minogue's Aphrodite tour was the best Australian contemporary concert and Prince's Welcome 2 Australia was the best international concert.
Katharine Brisbane, former theatre critic for _The West Australian _and founder of the influential play publisher Currency Press, was presented with the J.C. Williamson Award for her lifetime contribution to the industry.
The co-recipient was the late singer-songwriter Jimmy Little, whose award was presented to his manager Graham Budstrup and his niece Esther Cohen.
Hosted by Simon Burke, the night's entertainment came from casts of Cirque du Soleil, South Pacific, A Chorus Line, The Australian Ballet and A Long Way to the Top.
However, the stage industry's night of nights was held against a background of tension between event organiser Live Performance Australia and performers worried about the incursion of foreign actors into Australian productions.
Matthews, who has won a Helpmann award five times before, Jill Perryman, Todd McKenney, Richard Roxburgh, Geoffrey Rush and Ewen Leslie were among 99 award winners who signed an open letter of protest.
The LPA, the peak body for theatre producers, had torn up a 20-year agreement governing the use of foreign artists in April and since refused several requests from Actors Equity to discuss a new deal, union director Sue McCreadie said.
LPA president Andrew Kay said the agreement was terminated because it was not working in any sector of the industry.
"If someone wanted to import a theatre production or a musical, all they would have to do is resign from the LPA and (bring the performers in) under the Migration Act but no one has," Kay said.
"Employers and employees recognise and support Australian performers and we want to see more, not less, of them on Australian stages."