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What's Up at Whatsonstage.com Awards Concert

By • West End
Everyone said what a great show it was. The fourth Whatsonstage.com Awards Concert at the Prince of Wales Theatre last night -- the third in that magnificently restored art deco venue (the first was in the Apollo Theatre) - went with a real swing, and at full tilt, too.

So as well as all the winners, we must congratulate director Russell Labey and producers Stuart Piper and Jason Haigh-Ellery. I could only watch snippets on a television screen in the Delfont Room, as my duties entailed running the VIP bar and reception with Jo Caird and guest producer Louise Chantal. But everyone from Best New Play winner Howard Brenton to Cock Tavern winning producer Adam Spreadbury-Maher went out of their way to say the show was exemplary, enjoyable, witty and splendidly fast.

It's that hanging around aspect of awards shows, the tell-tale lag in the middle, the endless back-slapping, that is always so trying. We seem to have cracked it. What with the December nominations party and the awards concert, no-one I spoke to was really looking forward all that much to the Oliviers on 13 March.

We're certainly looking forward to The Wizard of Oz, and Biggins put in a fairly convincing, if slightly grotesque, bid to understudy Danielle Hope as Dorothy. Apparently Michael Crawford's understudy was badly caught out on Saturday night: Crawford was "off" at the preview with laryngitis, which sounds peculiar as he only has two songs. His stand-by went on with a  book, which is also peculiar, after two weeks of previews.

In contrast, Betty Blue Eyes is ready to roll three weeks before the first preview, if producer Cameron Mackintosh is to be believed. He told me that every word fits, there's not a comma out of place, and he's never known a musical in such good shape for the entirety of its rehearsal period.  

I complimented Cameron on the pleasure of being in his theatre for these awards: everyone, from his operations director Billy Differ (whom I first knew over thirty years ago at the Glasgow Pavilion) and general manager Graham Sykes, right through to  bars supervisor  David Sheehan and his staff, including veteran fixture Mary Bridgewater, one of the true West End legends, make us feel so welcome and ensure a fantastic night for everyone.

Even the banter was pretty light-hearted. I heard that the producers of Yes, Prime Minister, accepting the award for Best Comedy, were grateful that the Whatsonstage.com voters liked their little show much more than I did. Good for the voters: these are their awards, not mine.

And how charming is Blackpool-born star tenor Alfie Boe? He and his manager were beautifully mannered guests, sipping water, chatting to the Cock Tavern La Boheme team, greeting fans and fellow artists with equal enthusiasm. I asked Alfie, as I now call him, what the opera houses thought of him going into a West End run of Les Miserables.

Some were for it, some against, and he simply didn't care about those who criticised him for going "down market." Cameron confirmed that Tony Hall, chief executive of the Royal Opera House is a big fan of Les Miserables and had come along to The O2 concert last year.

All our guests in the Delfont Room really seemed to enjoy themselves, and not many rushed away afterwards, either. Dave Willetts had a long drive back to Stratford-upon-Avon, but Summer Strallen, so elegant, so tall, was going nowhere. Jonathan Slinger told me that rehearsing Macbeth for the RSC was the hardest thing he'd ever done. Howard Brenton was delighted that his award would boost the bookings for the upcoming twenty-five performances of Anne Boleyn at the Globe this summer.

Ramin Karimloo, Best Actor in a Musical, said that he would stay in Love Never Dies beyond the new cast changes next month for at least another six months; the show means so much to him, and now he feels he owes it to the show to stay on. And from March, too, all the fine-tuning and final changes will have been made, he says. The show, at last, will be fixed.  

It was good to catch up, too, with those exceptionally fine actors Nigel Lindsay and Stephen Campbell Moore, both nominated as Best Supporting Actor (Nigel won) and now appearing, respectively in Shrek (soon) and Clybourne Park.

And we had a splendid turn-out of Theatrical Guild ladies, rattling boxes and selling raffle tickets for their wonderful charity, which supports backstage and front of house staff who have fallen on hard times: Serena Evans, Jane How, Karen Nicholls, Phyllida Law, Issy van Randwyck and Stella Richards.

Equity president Malcolm Sinclair was on hand, too, delighted with how well David Hare's Racing Demon was going in Sheffield, though it's only playing to half full houses (ie, 400 or 500 a night) at the moment. He also revealed that the playwright had said to him that his performance as the Rev Lionel Espy was the best he had ever seen...by a President of Equity.

It was good to catch up, however fleetingly, with David Suchet and Zoe Wanamaker, worthy winners for All My Sons, as well as Lee Mead, Jemima Rooper (squired by the very handsome Ben Ockrent, son of Mike), lighting designer Peter Mumford (whom I mistakenly took for actor Peter Baldwin, whom he resembles), the gorgeous Meera Syal, another more than worthy winner, and her director, Glen Walford, Timothy Sheader whose award validates, he says, the changes he is trying to make at the Open Air Theatre, Tamsin Greig, so funny and attractive in black leather, Adrian Lester in a beautiful turquoise shirt, Josefina Gabrielle and Michael Praed, Nancy Carroll, magnificently pregnant....it was a famous night, and like everyone else in the audience, I wouldn't have missed it for the world.


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