An unprecedented number of ‘audience judges’ have been taking part in this year’s Whatsonstage.com Theatregoers’ Choice Awards, the only major theatre prize-giving decided by members of the paying theatregoing public. Already nearly 20,000 people have cast their votes in the most hotly contested theatre awards of the year. Voting continues online at awards.whatsonstage.com until 10 February 2008. Winners will be announced on Friday 22 February, ahead of the first-ever Whatsonstage.com Year on Year Concert on Sunday 24 February, when theatregoers will have the opportunity to congratulate many of their nominees and winners in person (See News, 14 Dec 2007).

The annual Awards, now in their eighth year, have firmly established their place in the theatrical calendar. In previous years, an average of 12,000 theatregoers have taken part to decide the eventual winners. With three weeks still to go, this year has already seen a nearly 40% increase in participation.

Terri Paddock, editorial director of Whatsonstage.com, attributes the surge in voting numbers to the high profile achieved for various West End productions last year. “Figures just released by the Society of London Theatre showed 2007 was a record year for West End attendances (See News, 18 Jan 2008), with first-time theatregoers fuelling much of the growth. The voting frenzy in the Whatsonstage.com Theatregoers’ Choice Awards this year bears this out. After all, 2007 was the year of Any Dream Will Do, Grease Is the Word, the stage debuts of Daniel Radcliffe and Orlando Bloom, and blockbuster musicals like Hairspray, not to mention big stage turns from familiar screen faces like Ian McKellen, Patrick Stewart, John Simm and many others. It was an incredibly exciting year that attracted mainstream attention to theatre like never before.”

The Awards competition couldn’t be closer between Any Dream Will Do victor Lee Mead and Michael Ball – both nominated for Best Actor in a Musical for their performances in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat and Hairspray respectively; currently, less than a single percentage point separates the two men. Elsewhere, Hairspray – which has ten nominations overall – is storming ahead in many of its categories, including Superbreak Best New Musical.

Locked in a fierce battle for Best New Play are War Horse (National Theatre) and All About My Mother (Old Vic), the adaptation of Pedro Almodovar’s cult Spanish film. And the Best Newcomer category is rapidly becoming a three-way battle between Hollywood heavyweights Orlando Bloom (In Celebration), Daniel Radcliffe (Equus) and previously unknown recent drama school graduate Leanne Jones (Hairspray).

For Best Actor in a Play, X-Men screen adversaries Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen continue to lock horns for stage dominance, for their respective title performances in two of Shakespeare’s greatest tragedies, Macbeth and King Lear. The full Awards shortlists were announced on Friday 7 December (See WOS TV & Photos, 10 Dec 2007) – when voting was also launched – at a star-studded lunchtime ceremony, guest-hosted by the first lady of British musical theatre, Elaine Paige OBE, Michael Ball, Roger Lloyd Pack and John Gordon Sinclair at Café de Paris in the heart of the West End.


Whatsonstage.com Year on Year Concert

The cream of musical theatre talent will unite in a one-off event - the inaugural Whatsonstage.com Year on Year Concert on Sunday 24 February at the Lyric Theatre, Shaftesbury Avenue. This new annual event will celebrate the past year in theatre and look to the shows coming up over the next year from both sides of the Atlantic, incorporating the best from the West End and Broadway seasons.

The evening will also include live trophy presentations to some of the winners of this year’s Theatregoers’ Choice Awards. This marks the first time that a public event to celebrate the announcement of the winners – as opposed to the existing nominees’ announcement event, which has become a key date in the industry calendar – has been staged in the awards’ history.

Amongst those so far confirmed to take part in the concert are Aimie Atkinson, Paul Baker, Leila Benn Harris, Graham Bickley, Daniel Boys, Sharon D Clarke, Ben James-Ellis, Ramin Karimloo, Leanne Jones, Debbie Kurup, Melanie La Barrie, Robyn North, Lara Pulver, Jon Robyns, Frances Ruffelle and Tom Solomon, as well as the casts of Buddy and the forthcoming Never Forget, the musical based on the songs of Take That, and winners of the Perfect Pitch Search for New Musicals.

Our charity & sponsors

The 2008 Whatsonstage Theatregoers’ Choice Awards and Year on Year Concert are held in aid of this year’s adopted charity, Mousetrap Theatre Projects, which was founded by Sir Stephen Waley-Cohen to give disadvantaged young people affordable access to the best of London’s live theatre. Ever year, Mousetrap takes over 7,500 to the theatre. The charity recently celebrated its tenth anniversary.

Media partner for the 2008 Awards is first magazine, who devoted a four-page spread to last month’s launch party (See News, 21 Dec 2007). Our other headline sponsors indicate the strength of industry-wide support for the audience-decided awards. They include: Superbreak, the market leader for short breaks, including theatre breaks, throughout the UK; the West End’s two largest marketing and advertising agencies, aka and Dewynters; Nick Hern Books, the UK’s leading independent theatre publishers and performing rights licensors; primary theatre and event ticketing providers, See Tickets and Ticketmaster; and St James’-based restaurant institution Franco’s. For more information on all of our sponsors, please visit our awards microsite.

For the full list of 2008 nominations and to vote – click here.