Written for The Collective Review, 21 January 2010
This year’s Laurence Olivier Awards will include a brand new category, the Audience Award, introduced to celebrate the nation’s favourite long-running production of 2009. Notice that I say ‘the nation’s favourite’, not ‘the Society of London Theatre’s favourite’. The nominees and eventual winner of the Audience Award will be decided by a public vote.
Public opinion polls aren’t exactly news, especially in Theatreland; Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Really Useful Group make their most significant casting decisions via televised phone-in these days, after all. But the Oliviers, like the BAFTAs and the Oscars, have always been a strictly industry affair.
The judging panel for the Theatre category (which also includes musical theatre) consists of five experts and eight members of the theatregoing public; but nominations can usually only be made by members of the Society of London Theatre, so the ordinary mortals on the panel can’t fight for a show that isn’t already endorsed by the industry.
The Audience Award nominees, on the other hand, will be determined by an online poll that’s open to everyone. Once the nominations are announced, in the week beginning 8 February, a second round of public voting will determine the winner.
To be eligible for nomination, a production must already have been running on 1 January 2009 and still have been going on 31 December 2009. To run for that long a show has to have immense popular appeal, so it’s only appropriate that the people who kept them open – who made them eligible – should be the ones to honour them in British theatre’s most prestigious ceremony.
The eligible productions, in alphabetical order, are: The 39 Steps, Avenue Q, Billy Elliot – The Musical, Blood Brothers, La Cage Aux Folles, Chicago, Dirty Dancing – The Classic Story On Stage, Grease, Hairspray, Jersey Boys, The Lion King, Mamma Mia, Les Misérables, The Mousetrap, The Phantom of the Opera, Stomp, War Horse, We Will Rock You, Wicked and The Woman In Black.
Click here to vote for your favourite – and stay tuned to t5m through February for comments on the nominees and a reminder to vote in the second round.