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Michael Coveney: start celebrating and get voting

The WhatsOnStage Awards are all about what you, the readers, want to support, says Michael Coveney

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WhatsOnStageAwards voting is now open

You can start voting for your winners in each category of the WhatsOnStage Awards as the nominations have now been announced at the celebratory red carpet launch event at the Café de Paris in the heart of London's West End.

All awards events are, to a greater or lesser extent, upbeat, jubilant, fun. Or they should be. They certainly are for the organisers and the participants. But the WOS Awards are especially enjoyable for the audience, for two reasons: you get to vote for your favourite shows and performers; and you can also come along to the awards presentation concert. All you have to do to get there is to buy a ticket for that event here and head down to the Prince of Wales theatre, on the other side of Piccadilly Circus, on 21 February 2016.

The unique quality of these awards is not that the winners are necessarily the worthiest, or the most critically approved, or even the most fashionable. They are simply what you, the readers, want to support and proclaim. This year's field is led by five shows across all performance and technical categories: the Benedict Cumberbatch Hamlet at the Barbican, In the Heights, Kinky Boots (nine nominations each); Gypsy (eight noms); and American Idiot (seven).

Awards are always, really, about the people who give them, whether they are editors, producers, panels or, in the case of WOS, the punters themselves. It is interesting to note that both the Evening Standard Awards and the Oliviers have lately included an element of the WOS brand with their respective "audience" awards.

This year there are some welcome inclusions and some surprising ommissions - Kenneth Cranham, for instance, for his role in The Father. That's the way the cookie crumbles. Marlene Dietrich never won an Oscar. Jim Broadbent has. So today's gathering at the Café de Paris is the starting gun for Christmas, a celebration of all the actors, directors, writers, singers and producers who contributed to the year's theatre, and a shout out to our readers and followers – these awards achieved an astonishing 20.2 million exposure on Twitter during the nominations period – while we all rub shoulders and raise glasses.

Our host at the launch is the peerless funny man Steve Furst, whose comedy turn as bling-laden North London lounge singer Lenny Beige was a brilliant creation and who has now diversified into countless realms of acting and writing; our entertainment is provided by the cast of In the Heights and Amy Lennox, so outstanding in Kinky Boots; and our company swollen by headline stars, household names, backroom boys and chorus girls; and our nominated charity the excellent Kevin Spacey Foundation, which does so much to bring theatre to the community and the community to the theatre.

So, let the party begin. And, after the hubbub, do please study the nominations and get down to some serious voting, and we'll see you all at the Prince of Wales concert in the new year, where there will also be announced a genuinely deserving, much loved, and highly glamorous recipient – we hope! – of the Equity services to the theatre award.

Vote here for who you want to win now in the WhatsOnStage Awards. Click herefor tickets to the concert. The list of all the nominees is here

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