Elaine Paige OBE, the “first lady of British musical theatre”, will guest-host the launch of this year’s eighth annual Whatsonstage.com Theatregoers’ Choice Awards, the only major theatre prize-giving to be decided by members of the public. The star-studded launch party, at which all of those artists and shows in the awards running will be announced, will be held at Café de Paris at lunchtime on Friday 7 December 2007.

Concert entertainment

A short concert celebrating musical contributions to the 2007 West End year will also be held. Amongst those so far confirmed to perform are Danny Bayne and Susan McFadden, who won the ITV reality show Grease Is the Word to play the roles of Danny Zuko and Sandy Dumbrowski in the current revival of Grease at the Piccadilly Theatre. The couple will sing one of the musical’s enduring hits, “You’re the One That I Want”.

In addition, Michael Ball (pictured with Paige) will be present, with members of the cast of Hairspray, the hit Broadway musical now playing at the West End’s Shaftesbury Theatre. Ball plays larger-than-life Edna Turnblad alongside co-stars Mel Smith and newcomer Leanne Jones, as Wilbur and Tracy Turnblad. The awards concert, produced by Stuart Piper, will also include special performances from the stars of Blondie musical Desperately Seeking Susan and Andrew Lloyd Webber’s The Phantom of the Opera, which celebrated its 21st birthday in the West End this month.

Elaine Paige created the roles of Eva Peron and Grizabella in the original productions of Lloyd Webber’s Evita and Cats. Her many other multi award-winning musical credits include Hair, Jesus Christ Superstar, Grease, Billy, Chess, Anything Goes, Piaf, Sunset Boulevard, Sweeney Todd and The King and I. Earlier this year, she returned to the West End stage to play the title role in the Broadway transfer of The Drowsy Chaperone. As a singer, Paige has performed concerts around the globe and recorded 20 solo albums (her latest is Elaine Paige: Essential Musicals). She also hosts her own weekly programme on BBC Radio 2, Elaine Paige on Sunday, devoted to musical theatre and film.

Charity & voting

The Café de Paris event is held in aid of this year’s adopted charity, Mousetrap Theatre Projects, founded by Sir Stephen Waley-Cohen to give disadvantaged young people affordable access to the best of London’s live theatre. Every year, Mousetrap takes some 7,500 young people to the theatre. This year, the charity is celebrating its tenth anniversary.

The nominations phase of this year’s Whatsonstage.com Theatregoers’ Choice Awards opens on the website on Monday 5 November. All professional productions, from Fringe to the West End, opened in London between 1 December 2006 and 30 November 2007 are eligible for nomination. Productions opened during December 2007 will be considered as part of next year’s awards. Shortlists will be announced at the Café de Paris event on 7 December, with final voting continuing on the website throughout December and January and the eventual winners announced in February 2008.

In a season that’s seen big musicals – including Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, Hairspray, Grease, The Lord of the Rings, Desperately Seeking Susan, Rent and Fiddler on the Roof – as well as classic plays, a surfeit of Shakespeare and acclaimed performances from Daniel Radcliffe, Maggie Smith, Richard Griffiths, Orlando Bloom, Diana Rigg, Michael Ball, Jessica Lange, Patrick Stewart, Stockard Channing, Charles Dance, Billie Piper, Richard Schiff, Anne-Marie Duff, John Simm, Kristin Scott Thomas, Paterson Joseph, Christian Slater, Rosamund Pike and many others, this year’s Whatsonstage.com Theatregoers’ Choice Awards sure to be a hotly contested competition.

- by Terri Paddock