This past autumn was the season of the ‘Big Three’ musicals – Andrew Lloyd Webber’s The Woman in White, the Broadway transfer of Mel BrooksThe Producers and the Cameron Mackintosh and Disney co-production of Mary Poppins - and that is firmly reflected in the nominations, announced today, for the 29th annual Laurence Olivier Awards, London's equivalent of the Tonys (See Today's Other News).

The trio go head-to-head – and notably, to the exclusion of all others - in the coveted categories of Best New Musical, Best Actress in a Musical (Maria Friedman versus Leigh Zimmerman versus Laura Michelle Kelly) and Best Supporting Performance in a Musical (Michael Crawford, David Haig and Conleth Hill). Meanwhile, for Best Actor in a Musical, as in’s Theatregoers’ Choice Awards, The Producers’ co-stars Lee Evans and now-departed Nathan Lane compete with each other as well as Mary PoppinsGavin Lee and Sweeney Todd’s Paul Hegarty.

Overall, the most recent musical arrival, Mary Poppins, leads with nine nominations overall. Amongst those, there’s a Best Director nod, though only for Richard Eyre, despite Matthew Bourne’s co-director credit. Bourne does pick up a nomination for Best Choreographer for the musical, along with his co-choreographer Stephen Mear. The Producers follows close behind Mary Poppins with eight nominations, including nominations for both Best Director and Best Choreographer for Susan Stroman, and The Woman in White receives five nominations.

Almeida matches National tally

Despite a highly popular season at the South Bank, the 2005 nominations break from recent years in that the National Theatre does not overshadow all other. As opposed to 20 nominations in 2004, the three-auditoria NT picks up just eight nominations this year – four of them for the Alan Bennett’s The History Boys, three for His Dark Materials and one for A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum - which is matched by the 321-seat single auditorium Almeida Theatre in north London.

The Almeida’s big players are its productions, both subsequently transferred to the West End, of Festen, with six nominations including Best New Play, and Edward Albee’s The Goat, or Who Is Sylvia?, which garners nominations of Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor for Jonathan Pryce and Eddie Redmayne, respectively.

It’s relatively slim pickings for London’s other leading subsidised houses. The Donmar Warehouse warrants three nominations (two of them for Grand Hotel, including Outstanding Musical Production, though nothing for its performances), the Tricycle gets two (both in the lone ‘affiliate theatre’ category for those off-West End venues which are not full SOLT members), and there’s just one apiece for the Young Vic (for its West End transfer of Simply Heavenly), the Royal Court (for an Upstairs production in the affiliate category) and Hampstead theatres (also in the affiliate running).

Surprise, surprise

Amongst some of the other surprises this year is a Best New Play nomination for the West End premiere of Marina Carr’s By the Bog of Cats, which had a largely poor critical reception, and none other than Judi Dench, receiving her 13th Olivier nomination for All’s Well That Ends Well, in contention with newcomers Redmayne and Samuel Barnett for Best Performance in a Supporting Role (in a category that also names Amanda Harris). The production, transferred to the Gielgud, receives four of the Royal Shakespeare Company’s total of five nominations.

Other plays that fare well are Suddenly Last Summer (with three nominations, including Best Actress for Victoria Hamilton), Trevor Nunn’s Hamlet (also with three, including Best Actor for Ben Whishaw) and Endgame (with two, including Best Actor for Michael Gambon).

The fourth Best Actor nominee is The History BoysRichard Griffiths, while Hecuba’s Clare Higgins, His Dark MaterialsAnna Maxwell Martin and BombshellsCaroline O'Connor fill the rest of the Best Actress field. Some of the other big names up for awards are Rufus Norris, William Dudley and Adam Cooper.

Two previous awards categories – Best Entertainment and Most Promising Performer (in an affiliate theatre) – have been omitted from this year’s Oliviers. According to an awards spokeswoman, the former did not have enough votes to warrant inclusion. As with last year’s format, the awards ceremony, which takes place on Sunday 20 February 2005 at the London Hilton, will not be open to the public and will not be televised.

- by Mark Shenton & Terri Paddock

To view the full list of 2005 Olivier nominations, click here.