The Broadway transfer of Disney's The Lion King may be the biggest blockbuster to hit London in years but, in terms of industry accolades, it's running neck and neck with the much smaller, homegrown musical Spend Spend Spend, based on the life of pools winner Viv Nicholson. Both shows have accumulated eight nominations in the 24th annual Laurence Olivier Awards, announced today. And in the crucial categories of Best New Musical, Best Director and Best Actress in a Musical, the two musicals are lined up in direct competition.

The Royal National Theatre and Royal Shakespeare Company also feature strongly in this year's nominations. Among the RNT's 21 nominations, its production of Leonard Bernstein's musical Candide stands out with six nominations, while its Summerfolk earns four nominations. The RSC meanwhile picked up eight nominations, with three going to The Winter's Tale.

In the Best Actress category, veterans Maggie Smith (for The Lady in the Van) and Alison Steadman (for The Memory of Water) are pitted against relative newcomers Janie Dee (for Comic Potential and Jennifer Ehle for The Real Thing.

In the actor categories, Roger Allam has managed the considerable feat of being nominated twice - for Best Actor (for Summerfolk) and Best Supporting Actor (for Money), both at the National. In the Best Actor category, Allam is up against strong competition in the form of Stephen Dillane for The Real Thing, Henry Goodman for The Merchant of Venice, Michael Sheen for Look Back in Anger and Antony Sher for The Winter's Tale.

Meanwhile, the nominations for performers in musicals are sure to cause some fisticuffs backstage. In all three categories, it's a battle of the co-stars. In the Best Actor in a Musical category, Daniel Evans is matched against his co-star Simon Russell Beale for Candide; Best Actress in a Musical sees Spend Spend Spend's young Viv Rachel Leskovac up against old Viv Barbara Dickson; and for Best Supporting Performance in a Musical, Mamma Mia's ageing Abba-lovers Jenny Galloway and Louise Plowright are going head to head.

The Laurence Olivier Awards 2000 will be presented on Friday, February 18, 2000 at the Lyceum Theatre, in a lunchtime ceremony once again hosted by Clive Andersen. To maintain an element of surprise in the presentation of the awards, the winners of some categories will receive their awards outside of the ceremony in an unexpected location. The ceremony will be televised on BBC2 on Sunday, February 20 at 8.00pm.

The full list of nominations are as follows:

BEST ACTRESS: Janie Dee for Comic Potential at the Lyric; Jennifer Ehle for The Real Thing at the Donmar Warehouse and now at the Albery; Maggie Smith for The Lady in the Van at the Queen's; and Alison Steadman for The Memory of Water at the Vaudeville.

BEST ACTOR: Roger Allam for Summerfolk at the RNT Olivier; Stephen Dillane for The Real Thing at the Donmar Warehouse and now at the Albery; Henry Goodman for The Merchant of Venice at the RNT Cottesloe and now at the RNT Olivier; Michael Sheen for Look Back in Anger at the RNT Lyttelton; and Antony Sher for The Winter's Tale, RSC at the Barbican.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR: Roger Allam for Money at the RNT Olivier; Michael Bryant for Summerfolk at the RNT Olivier; Ron Cook for Juno and the Paycock at the Donmar Warehouse; and Michael Williams for The Forest at the RNT Lyttelton.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS: Anne-Marie Duff for Collected Stories at the Theatre Royal, Haymarket; Patricia Hodge for Money at the RNT Olivier; Estelle Kohler for The Winter's Tale, RSC at the Barbican; and Kika Markham for Song at Twilight at the Gielgud.

BEST NEW MUSICAL: Honk! The Ugly Duckling, music by George Stiles, book and lyrics by Anthony Drewe, based on the story by Hans Christian Andersen at the RNT Olivier; Mamma Mia, music and lyrics by Benny Andersson and Bjorn Ulvaeus and some songs with Stig Anderson, book by Catherine Johnson at the Prince Edward; Spend Spend Spend, book and lyrics by Steve Brown and Justin Greene, music by Steve Brown, based on the book by Viv Nicholson and Stephen Smith at the Piccadilly; The Lion King, music and lyrics by Elton John and Tim Rice, additional music and lyrics by Lebo M, Mark Mancina, Jay Rifkin, Julie Taymor, Hans Zimmer, book by Roger Allers and Irene Mecchi, adapted from the screenplay by Irene Mecchi and Jonathan Roberts and Linda Woolverton at the Lyceum.

OUTSTANDING MUSICAL PRODUCTION: A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, book by Burt Shevelove and Larry Gelbart, music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim at the Open Air; Candide, music by Leonard Bernstein, book adapted from Voltaire by Hugh Wheeler, in a new version by John Caird, lyrics by Richard Wilbur, additional lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, John Latouche, Lillian Hellman, Dorothy Parker and Leonard Bernstein at the RNT Olivier; Dick Whittington devised by Gillian Lynne, Stephen Clark and Chris Walker at Sadler's Wells; and The Pajama Game, book by George Abbott and Richard Bissell, based on Richard Bissell's novel 7½ Cents, music and lyrics by Richard Adler and Jerry Ross at the Victoria Palace.

BEST NEW PLAY: Goodnight Children Everywhere by Richard Nelson, RSC at The Pit; Perfect Days by Liz Lochhead at the Vaudeville; Rose by Martin Sherman at the RNT Cottesloe; The Lady in the Van by Alan Bennett at the Queen's; and Three Days of Rain by Richard Greenberg at the Donmar Warehouse.

BEST NEW COMEDY: Comic Potential by Alan Ayckbourn at the Lyric, Quartet by Ronald Harwood at the Albery; and The Memory of Water by Shelagh Stephenson at the Vaudeville.

BEST ENTERTAINMENT: Al Murray - The Pub Landlord at the New Ambassadors; Defending the Caveman by Rob Becker at the Apollo; Fascinating Aida - Barefaced Chic at the Theatre Royal, Haymarket; and Soul Train devised by Mark Clements and Michael Vivian at the Victoria Palace.

BEST ACTOR IN A MUSICAL: Rob Edwards for The Lion King at the Lyceum; Daniel Evans for Candide at the RNT Olivier; Ben Keaton for Animal Crackers at the Lyric; Gus MacGregor for Buddy at the Strand; and Simon Russell Beale for Candide at the RNT Olivier.

BEST ACTRESS IN A MUSICAL: Josette Bushell-Mingo for The Lion King at the Lyceum; Barbara Dickson for Spend Spend Spend at the Piccadilly; Rachel Leskovac for Spend Spend Spend at the Piccadilly; Siobhan McCarthy for Mamma Mia at the Prince Edward.

BEST SUPPORTING PERFORMANCE IN A MUSICAL: Joseph Alessi for Animal Crackers at the Lyric; Jenny Galloway for Mamma Mia at the Prince Edward; Steven Houghton for Spend Spend Spend at the Piccadilly; Louise Plowright for Mamma Mia at the Prince Edward; and Denis Quilley for Candide at the RNT Olivier.

BEST DIRECTOR: David Leveaux for The Real Thing at the Donmar Warehouse and now at the Albery; Trevor Nunn for Summerfolk at the RNT Olivier, The Merchant of Venice at the RNT Cottesloe and now at the RNT Olivier, and Troilus and Cressida at the RNT Olivier; Jeremy Sams for Spend Spend Spend at the Piccadilly; and Julie Taymor The Lion King at the Lyceum.

BEST THEATRE CHOREOGRAPHER: Peter Darling for Candide at the RNT Olivier; Garth Fagan for The Lion King at the Lyceum; Craig Revel Horwood for Spend Spend Spend at the Piccadilly; and Stephen Mear for SOUL TRAIN at the Victoria Palace.

BEST SET DESIGNER: Lez Brotherston for Spend Spend Spend at the Piccadilly; Maria Bjornson for Plenty, Almeida at the Albery; Rob Howell for Richard III, RSC at the Savoy, Troilus and Cressida at the RNT Olivier and Vassa , Almeida at the Albery; and Richard Hudson for The Lion King at the Lyceum.

BEST LIGHTING DESIGNER: Howard Harrison for Private Lives at the RNT Lyttelton, Sleep with Me at the RNT Cottesloe and The Tempest, RSC at the Barbican; Mark Henderson for Plenty, Almeida at the Albery, Spend Spend Spend at the Piccadilly, Suddenly Last Summer at the Comedy, The Forest at the RNT Lyttelton, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, RSC at the Barbican, The Real Thing at the Donmar Warehouse and now at the Albery, and Vassa, Almeida at the Albery; Donald Holder for The Lion King at the Lyceum; and Peter Mumford for Collected Stories at the Theatre Royal, Haymarket, Richard III, RSC at the Savoy, Summerfolk and The Merchant of Venice at the RNT Cottesloe and now at the RNT Olivier.

BEST COSTUME DESIGNER: Rob Howell for Money and Troilus and Cressida at the RNT Olivier; Robert Jones for The Winter's Tale, RSC at the Barbican; John Napier with Elise Napier for Candide at the RNT Olivier; and Julie Taymor for The Lion King at the Lyceum.

BEST NEW OPERA PRODUCTION: English National Opera's Alcina at the London Coliseum; Welsh National Opera's Hansel and Gretel at Sadler's Wells; English National Opera's Parsifal at the London Coliseum; and English National Opera's Semele at the London Coliseum.

OUTSTANDING ACHIEVEMENT IN OPERA: Kim Begley for his performance in English National Opera's Parsifal at the London Coliseum English National Opera for its high standard of production and in particular for championing the works of Handel; Rosemary Joshua for her performance in English National Opera's Semele at the London Coliseum; and Bryn Terfel for his performance in The Royal Opera's Falstaff at the Royal Opera House.

BEST NEW DANCE PRODUCTION: San Francisco Ballet's Sandpaper Ballet at Sadler's Wells; Nederlands Dans Theater 1's Symphony of Psalms at Sadler's Wells; San Francisco Ballet's The Cage at Sadler's Wells; and Pina Bausch Tanztheater Wuppertal's Viktor at Sadler's Wells.

OUTSTANDING ACHIEVEMENT IN DANCE: Nina Ananiashvili for her performance in The Bolshoi Ballet's Don Quixote at the London Coliseum; Pina Bausch and her Company for the conception of Viktor at Sadler's Wells; David Bintley and his creative team for Birmingham Royal Ballet's Edward II at Sadler's Wells; and Jiri Kylian for his artistic excellence and outstanding direction of Nederlands Dans Theater 1's season at Sadler's Wells.