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Oliviers 2014: A strong year for musicals

''Merrily We Roll Along, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Once, The Book of Mormon'' and ''The Scottsboro Boys'' have over 30 nominations between them

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It may have been back in 2012 that Maria Friedman's landmark production of Merrily We Roll Along opened at the Menier Chocolate Factory, but thanks to its subsequent transfer to the SOLT-affiliated Harold Pinter Theatre it has now been recognised by the Olivier Awards with seven nominations.

Quite right too. Friedman, one of the nicest (and, needless to say, most talented) people in musical theatre, told me she had arrived late to this morning's nominations event having had no expectation of featuring. "I might've turned up on time if I'd thought I'd be nominated," she laughed.

Whilst disappointed her "boys" Damian Humbley and Mark Umbers had missed out on nominations, Friedman nevertheless sees the show's seven nods as a "cherry on the cake" for the production, adding to the icing of its Evening Standard and Critics' Circle Awards last year.

Merrily is matched in its number of nominations only by Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Sam Mendes' blockbuster adaptation of Roald Dahl's perennially popular tale at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane. The two productions could hardly be more different, but represent the yin and yang of Off-West End and mainstream that characterises London's musical theatre scene: each needs the other.

And Friedman is bullish that original musicals - also represented on this year's shortlists by Broadway imports The Book of Mormon and The Scottsboro Boys (which have six nominations each, as does screen-to-stager Once) - still have a future in the mainstream, despite recent words to the contrary from Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber.

"The whole ethos [of musicals] has changed," she said. "It's not like it used to be, with shows getting 20-year runs... One year, two years is good. If you're going to do new work a great deal will fall by the wayside, but it's still worth doing."

Toast of the town: The cast of Merrily We Roll Along at the Harold Pinter Theatre

Another Off-West End venue celebrating today is the Almeida, which is represented on the Oliviers shortlists no less than ten times.

Not only is this a fitting testament to the end of Michael Attenborough's era in charge, and the beginning of Rupert Goold's (Chimerica and 1984 are both co-productions with Goold's former company Headlong), but a signal that the Islington venue has regained its status as a breeding ground of West End success.

The acting categories meanwhile boast a rich mix of new and established stars - from Tom Hiddleston to Judi Dench - though some will no doubt be disappointed by the inevitable omissions, Adrian Lester perhaps the most notable.

And, following International Women's Day on Saturday, it's a fittingly strong year for women, particularly in the Best Director category where Richard Eyre (for Ghosts) is the sole masculine presence - it's good to see that Friedman is joined on that shortlist by Susan Stroman for The Scottsboro Boys.

All round it feels that the Oliviers - much like our own recent WhatsOnStage Awards - are reflecting and rewarding a conspicuously strong year for theatre, whoever emerges victorious on 13 April.