Continuing its success in the Evening Standard, Critics’ Circle and our own Theatregoers’ Choice Awards (in which it has ten nominations), Hairspray has today broken the record for the most nominations ever received by a single production in the annual Laurence Olivier Awards, London's equivalent of the Tonys (See Today's Other News for Full Shortlists).

Hairspray’s 11 nominations include Best New Musical, Best Actor in a Musical (a cross-dressing Michael Ball), Best Actress in a Musical (Leanne Jones, who made her professional debut as Tracy Turnblad), Best Director (Jack O'Brien) and Best Choreographer (Jerry Mitchell), while in the Best Performance in a Supporting Role in a Musical, the show’s Tracie Bennett and Elinor Collett go head-to-head.

The previous record for Olivier nominations was nine, which has been achieved by three productions, all musical revivals, to date: the Broadway transfer of Kiss Me, Kate (2002) and the National Theatre productions of Oklahoma! (1999) and Carousel (1993).

No reality TV success

The popularity of the reality TV casting competition Any Dream Will Do - as well as its Saturday night rival Grease Is the Word - may have helped fuel record audiences across Theatreland, but neither its victor Lee Mead and now star of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat did not figure in the Olivier shortlists today (the production itself was ineligible as it has previously been mounted in the West End).

Hairspray’s closest contender in the musicals race is the Donmar Warehouse’s small-scale production of Parade, which received seven nominations, including Best New Musical, as well as Best Actor, Actress and Performance in a Supporting Role in a Musical (for Bertie Carvel, Lara Pulver and Shaun Escoffery respectively). Meanwhile, the Broadway hit The Drowsy Chaperone, which closed prematurely at the Novello last summer, and the epic adaptation of Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, which received a critical mauling, got five nods apiece.

Both go up against Hairspray and Parade for Best New Musical while The Drowsy Chaperone’s other nominations include Best Actress in a Musical for Summer Strallen (who’s just been ‘rediscovered’ by Andrew Lloyd Webber care of Channel 4 teen soap Hollyoaks) and Best Actor in a Musical for the show’s co-creator Bob Martin in the non-singing role of the Narrator. All of The Lord of the Rings’ other nominations were in design-related categories.

The Outstanding Musical Production category has this year been renamed, more aptly, Best Musical Revival, which yields a three-way race between Fiddler on the Roof, Little Shop of Horrors and the Young Vic’s South African version of Mozart opera The Magic Flute. Fiddler’s Henry Goodman is also up for Best Actor in a Musical, while Little Shop’s Sheridan Smith and Alistair McGowan are in contention for Best Actress in a Musical and Best Supporting Performance in a Musical.

One Horse race, Shakespearean titans

Amongst plays, the National’s adaptation of Michael Morpurgo’s children’s novel War Horse leads the way with six nominations, including Best New Play and Best Director for Marianne Elliott and Tom Morris. Unusually for a play, it also weighs up against the big musicals for Best Theatre Choreographer (Toby Sedgwick).

Fast on War Horse’s heels are two Shakespeares: the Chichester Festival transfer of Macbeth and the Donmar Warehouse’s current production of Othello, with five and four nominations apiece. Those productions’ titular leads – Patrick Stewart and Chiwetel Ejiofor last week shared the Critics’ Circle Award for Best Shakespearean Performance. They now compete for the Oliver Best Actor prize along with another Shakespearean titan, Ian McKellen for his title performance in the RSC production of King Lear. The other Best Actor contenders are both recognised for their comedy performances: John Simm for Elling and Mark Rylance for Boeing-Boeing.

Macbeth earns another Best Director nomination for Rupert Goold, who’s already won the Evening Standard and Critics’ Circle and been nominated in the Theatregoers’ Choice Awards in the same category. For Othello, Ejiofor’s Desdemona, Kelly Reilly, battles for Best Actress with Standard and Critics’ Circle winner Anne-Marie Duff for Saint Joan, as well as The Seagull’s Kristin Scott Thomas, Happy DaysFiona Shaw and John Gabriel Borkman’s Penelope Wilton.

Comedy returns, new Newcomer

The Best New Comedy category, infrequent in recent years, has been reinstated, with two Bush Theatre transfers – screen adaptation Elling and Steve Thompson’s Whipping It Up - competing against Michael Frayn’s The Crimson Hotel (one half of the Donmar’s Absurdia double bill) and Ayub Khan-Din’s Rafta Rafta.

In Best New Play, Complicite’s A Disappearing Number, another winner at both the Critics’ and Standard Awards, is nominated alongside War Horse as well as Nicholas Wright’s The Reporter and Tanya Ronder’s adaptation of Vernon God Little. Polly Stenham’s acclaimed debut play That Face, is ineligible in this and the other main Olivier categories as it was presented in the Royal Court Jerwood Theatre Upstairs, but its entire cast is recognised for Outstanding Achievement in an Affiliate Theatre, the category for Off-West End members of the Society of London Theatre, which runs the Oliviers.

A Newcomer category has been introduced this year, though it is limited, as decided by the judging panel, to performances in plays. The category sees Tom Hiddleston in competition with himself – for Cymbeline at the Barbican as well as Othello - as well as Nicholas Nickleby’s David Dawson and Dealer’s Choice’s Stephen Wight.

Notable omissions from this year’s shortlists included Robert Lindsay for his critically acclaimed Archie Rice in The Entertainer (though his co-star Pam Ferris is nominated for Best Performance in a Supporting Role, the Old Vic’s only nomination), Daniel Radcliffe for his stage debut in Equus and Critics’ Circle Best Actor Charles Dances for Shadowlands.

Scores on the doors

By theatre, the National leads the way with 15 nominations, followed closely by the Donmar Warehouse with 13, and then the Royal Court (four), Young Vic (three), Barbican (two) and Royal Shakespeare Company (one). The Almeida was a no-show this year, with no nominations, while the Bush (three) and Menier Chocolate Factory (five) figure, thanks to their various transfers.

Overall, the nominations count for 2007’s musicals breaks down as follows: Hairspray (eleven); Parade (seven); The Lord of the Rings and The Drowsy Chaperon (five each); Little Shop of Horrors (three); Fiddler on the Roof (two); The Magic Flute (one). Other big openings – including Bad Girls, Rent and Desperately Seeking Susan and the reality TV returns of Joseph and Grease - are omitted.

Multiple play nominees stack up thus: War Horse (six); Macbeth (five); Othello (four); Saint Joan (three); Boeing-Boeing, The Seagull, Elling, The Man of Mode and Dealer’s Choice (two each).

The 32nd annual Laurence Olivier Awards comprise 23 categories, as well as another Special Award which is not shortlisted. The occasional field of Best Entertainment is not included in the 2008 Awards. The awards ceremony, which will this year be hosted by Richard E Grant, takes place several weeks later than usual, on Sunday 9 March 2008 at the Grosvenor House Hotel.

- by Terri Paddock

To view the full list of 2008 Olivier nominations, click here.