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23rd Annual Whatsonstage Awards – 2023

This year, the WhatsOnStage Awards have introduced gender-neutral categories (some of their awards, such as Best Direction and Best Lighting Design, have always been gender-neutral, of course, so in some ways it’s merely a natural progression). But the overall number of awards has gone up, albeit by one – although four categories have switched from gender-specific to gender-neutral, five awards have been added compared to last year’s line-up. Not all of these are entirely new. Rufus Hound, a previous co-host, once lampooned a category called Best Takeover in a Role, referring to it instead as Best Takeaway Roll. Funnily enough, it’s now called Best Takeover Performance.

23rd Annual Whatsonstage AwardsOf the new gender-neutral categories, Best Performer in a Musical, Best Supporting Performer in a Musical, Best Performer in a Play and Best Supporting Performer in a Play, the theatregoing public had decided to award all of these to women. Courtney Bowman (who also co-hosted this year’s awards) and Lauren Drew won the respective musical categories, both for the Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre production of Legally Blonde, while Jodie Comer was the almost inevitable choice for Best Performer in a Play for her extraordinary performance in Prima Facie, a production that enjoyed a completely sold-out run at the Harold Pinter Theatre, before being screened in cinemas. It was so successful that when I went to see it at the pictures (I couldn’t get a ticket for the West End run for neither love nor money), the cinema staff were asking patrons to double-check they went into the right screen as printed on their tickets, such were the number of screenings being put on. Still, Comer’s was a very strong category, and she was up against the likes of Jonathan Bailey for Cock and Rafe Spall, who played Atticus Finch in the stage adaptation of To Kill a Mockingbird.

I’ve been prone to dubbing the WhatsOnStage Awards the ‘Most Aggressive Social Media Campaign Awards’ in the past, so I couldn’t help but be amused by a remark by Joshua Thorson, collecting the award for Best Video Design for his work on the Old Vic production of Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Oklahoma!, in which he expressed surprise at having won his category because he didn’t take to social media and tell everyone he had been nominated and encourage them to go online and vote. I won’t mention names, but there are certain people for whom, conversely, a social media campaign did not result in an award. A memorable quote from Dad’s Army comes to mind: “Oh dear. How sad. Never mind.

The hosts for the awards, the aforementioned Bowman plus Billy Luke Nevers and Laurie Kynaston, weren’t afraid of the occasional send-up, which added some humour to the proceedings, even if a reliance on cue cards told all and sundry quite how scripted many of the punchlines were. A couple of announcements were made about forthcoming productions. Firstly, Sir Cameron Mackintosh, who had never, to the best of his recollection, received an award for a one-off production, collected the award for Best Concert Event, for Stephen Sondheim’s Old Friends. He’s bringing it back to Shaftesbury Avenue in September 2023, in a line-up that is being headlined by Bernadette Peters and Lea Salonga. Secondly, Gabrielle Brooks will lead the Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre production of Once On This Island, and closed the three-hour (phew!) ceremony with a rendering of ‘Waiting for Life’ from that show.

The Royal Shakespeare Company’s production of My Neighbour Totoro was a popular choice. I didn’t get around to seeing that show, so I found myself listening intently to Phelim McDermott’s acceptance speech for Best Direction, as he talked about the process of getting the show on stage. I suspect his was not the only show to have used the lockdowns to refine and perfect their productions.

As ever, musical contributions formed a major part of proceedings, and this year the highlights were Charlotte Kennedy and Lesley Garrett CBE singing ‘I Could Have Danced All Night’ from My Fair Lady, Mazz Murray reprising ‘The Show Must Go On’ from We Will Rock You, and all four Billy Elliots from the 2022 Curve Theatre Leicester production (Alfie Napolitano, Jaden Shentall-Lee, Leo Hollingsworth and Samuel Newby) reprising ‘Electricity’. Alex Parker conducted a thirteen-piece on-stage band through an eclectic mix of showtunes from Rodgers & Hammerstein to The Great British Bake Off Musical. Congratulations to all of this year’s winners.

Chris Omaweng

THE NOMINEES IN FULL – WINNERS IN BOLD:

BEST PERFORMER IN A MUSICAL sponsored by TICKX
Courtney Bowman, Legally Blonde, Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre
Katie Brayben, Tammy Faye, Almeida Theatre
Divina De Campo, Hedwig and the Angry Inch, Leeds Playhouse and HOME Manchester
Jordan Luke Gage, Bonnie & Clyde the Musical, Arts Theatre
Frances Mayli McCann, Bonnie & Clyde the Musical, Arts Theatre
Charlie Stemp, Crazy for You, Chichester Festival Theatre

BEST SUPPORTING PERFORMER IN A MUSICAL sponsored by NEWMAN DISPLAYS
Jocasta Almgill, Grease, Dominion Theatre
Lauren Drew, Legally Blonde, Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre
Paul French, Grease, Dominion Theatre
Natalie McQueen, Bonnie & Clyde the Musical, Arts Theatre
John Owen-Jones, The Great British Bake Off Musical, Everyman Theatre, Cheltenham
Marisha Wallace, Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Oklahoma!, Young Vic

BEST PERFORMER IN A PLAY sponsored by SINE DIGITAL
Jonathan Bailey, Cock, Ambassadors Theatre
Jodie Comer, Prima Facie, Harold Pinter Theatre
Carrie Hope Fletcher, The Caucasian Chalk Circle, Rose Theatre Kingston
Mei Mac, My Neighbour Totoro, Barbican Theatre
Rafe Spall, To Kill a Mockingbird, Gielgud Theatre
David Tennant, Good, Harold Pinter Theatre

BEST SUPPORTING PERFORMER IN A PLAY sponsored by EDWARDIAN HOTELS LONDON (Official Hotel Partner)
Jade Anouka, Cock, Ambassadors Theatre
Gwyneth Keyworth, To Kill a Mockingbird, Gielgud Theatre
Elliot Levey, Good, Harold Pinter Theatre
Natasha Magigi, The Clothes They Stood Up In, Nottingham Playhouse
Sharon Small, Good, Harold Pinter Theatre
Greg Tannahill, Good Luck, Studio, Mercury Theatre, Salisbury Playhouse and Yvonne Arnaud Theatre

BEST TAKEOVER PERFORMANCE sponsored by TANDEM MARKETING
Lauren Byrne, Matilda The Musical, Cambridge Theatre
Erin Caldwell, Heathers: The Musical, The Other Palace
Joel Harper-Jackson, Cock, Ambassadors Theatre
Lucie Jones, Wicked, Apollo Victoria Theatre
Reuben Joseph, Hamilton, Victoria Palace Theatre
Ben Joyce, Back to the Future: The Musical, Adelphi Theatre

BEST PROFESSIONAL DEBUT PERFORMANCE sponsored by AKA
Tomisin Ajani, The Play That Goes Wrong, Duchess Theatre
Joe Locke, The Trials, Donmar Warehouse
Oliver Nicholas, Back to the Future: The Musical, Adelphi Theatre
Aharon Rayner, The Great British Bake Off Musical, Everyman Theatre, Cheltenham
Nadine Shah, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Shakespeare North Playhouse
Djavan van de Fliert, Frozen, Theatre Royal Drury Lane

BEST NEW MUSICAL sponsored by TRAVELZOO
Bonnie & Clyde the Musical, Arts Theatre
The Great British Bake Off Musical, Everyman Theatre, Cheltenham
Identical, Nottingham Playhouse and The Lowry Salford
Tammy Faye, Almeida Theatre
The Band’s Visit, Donmar Warehouse
The Osmonds: A New Musical, UK tour

BEST MUSICAL REVIVAL sponsored by CONCORD THEATRICALS
Billy Elliot, Curve, Leicester
Grease, Dominion Theatre
Legally Blonde, Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre
My Fair Lady, London Coliseum and tour
Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Oklahoma!, Young Vic
Spring Awakening, Almeida Theatre

BEST NEW PLAY sponsored by TICKETMASTER
A Different Stage, Duke of York’s Theatre and tour
Best of Enemies, Young Vic and Noël Coward Theatre
Eureka Day, The Old Vic
My Neighbour Totoro, Barbican Theatre
Prima Facie, Harold Pinter Theatre
To Kill a Mockingbird, Gielgud Theatre

BEST PLAY REVIVAL sponsored by AUDIENCEVIEW
Blues for an Alabama Sky, National Theatre
Cock, Ambassadors Theatre
Good, Harold Pinter Theatre
The Caucasian Chalk Circle, Rose Theatre, Kingston
The Crucible, National Theatre
The Seagull, Harold Pinter Theatre

BEST WEST END SHOW sponsored by DEWYNTERS
Back to the Future: The Musical, Adelphi Theatre
Hamilton, Victoria Palace Theatre
Les Misérables, Sondheim Theatre
SIX, Vaudeville Theatre
The Phantom of the Opera, Her Majesty’s Theatre
Wicked, Apollo Victoria Theatre

BEST REGIONAL PRODUCTION sponsored by MUSIC THEATRE INTERNATIONAL
Billy Elliot the Musical, Curve, Leicester
Crazy for You, Chichester Festival Theatre
The Great British Bake Off Musical, Everyman Theatre, Cheltenham
Rodgers + Hammerstein’s Cinderella, Hope Mill Theatre
The Book Thief, Octagon Theatre, Bolton
The Osmonds: A New Musical, UK tour

BEST OFF-WEST END PRODUCTION
Anyone Can Whistle, Southwark Playhouse
But I’m A Cheerleader: The Musical, The Turbine Theatre
DIVA: Live from Hell!, The Turbine Theatre
Millennials, The Other Palace Studio
RIDE – A New Musical, Charing Cross Theatre
Ruckus, Southwark Playhouse

BEST CONCERT EVENT
Chess, Theatre Royal Drury Lane
Jeremy Jordan, Theatre Royal Drury Lane
SIX in Concert, Hampton Court Palace
Stephen Sondheim’s Old Friends, Sondheim Theatre
The Witches of Eastwick, Sondheim Theatre
Treason, Theatre Royal Drury Lane

BEST DIRECTION sponsored by LOVETHEATRE
Dominic Cooke, Good, Harold Pinter Theatre
Daniel Fish and Jordan Fein, Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Oklahoma!, Young Vic
Nikolai Foster, Billy Elliot, Curve Leicester
Rupert Goold, Spring Awakening, Almeida Theatre
Phelim McDermott, My Neighbour Totoro, Barbican Theatre
Indhu Rubasingham, The Father and the Assassin, National Theatre

BEST MUSICAL DIRECTION/SUPERVISION
Daniel Kluger, Nathan Koci and Tom Brady, Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Oklahoma!, Young Vic
Nigel Lilley and Tarek Merchant, The Band’s Visit, Donmar Warehouse
Stuart Morley, Georgie Francis and Elliot Mackenzie, Whistle Down the Wind, Watermill Theatre
Bruce O’Neil and Matt Smith, My Neighbour Totoro, Barbican Theatre
Ted Sperling and Gareth Valentine, My Fair Lady, London Coliseum and tour
Sarah Travis, Steve Sidwell and the company, Beautiful: The Carole King Musical, UK tour

BEST CASTING DIRECTION
Pippa Ailion and Natalie Gallacher, Spring Awakening, Almeida Theatre
Stuart Burt, The Seagull, Harold Pinter Theatre
Anji Carroll, Marvellous, New Vic Theatre, @sohoplace
Natalie Gallacher for Poppa Ailion Casting, Legally Blonde, Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre
Jacob Sparrow, Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Oklahoma!, Young Vic
Anne Vosser and Jo Hawes, Identical, Nottingham Playhouse and The Lowry, Salford

BEST CHOREOGRAPHY
Fabian Aloise, Bring It On: The Musical, Southbank Centre
Maxine Doyle, The Burnt City, Woolwich Works
Ellen Kane, A Chorus Line, Curve Leicester
Lynne Page, Spring Awakening, Almeida Theatre
Susan Stroman, Crazy for You, Chichester Festival Theatre
Arlene Phillips, Grease, Dominion Theatre

BEST COSTUME DESIGN
Evie Gurney and Richard Mawbey, The 47th, The Old Vic
William Ivey Long, Crazy for You, Chichester Festival Theatre
Katrina Lindsay, Tammy Faye, Almeida Theatre
Melissa Simon-Hartman, Much Ado About Nothing, Royal Shakespeare Theatre
Gabriella Slade, The Cher Show, UK tour
Catherine Zuber, My Fair Lady, London Coliseum and UK tour

BEST LIGHTING DESIGN sponsored by WHITE LIGHT
Neil Austin, Tammy Faye, Almeida Theatre
Nic Farman, The Book Thief, Octagon Theatre, Bolton
Jessica Hung Han Yun, My Neighbour Totoro, Barbican Theatre
Jack Knowles, Spring Awakening, Almeida Theatre
Tim Lutkin, The Crucible, National Theatre
Scott Zielinski, Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Oklahoma!, Young Vic

BEST SET DESIGN sponsored by PREEVUE
Jon Bausor, Into the Woods, Theatre Royal Bath
Es Devlin, The Crucible, National Theatre
Robert Jones, Murder on the Orient Express, Chichester Festival Theatre
Morgan Large, Sister Act, Eventim Apollo Hammersmith and tour
Tom Pye and Basil Twist, My Neighbour Totoro, Barbican Theatre
Ben Stones, Hedwig and the Angry Inch, Leeds Playhouse and HOME Manchester

BEST SOUND DESIGN sponsored by STAGE SOUND SERVICES
Neil Bettles, Blood Harmony, Traverse Theatre
Annie May Fletcher, Hedwig and the Angry Inch, Leeds Playhouse and HOME Manchester
Tony Gayle, My Neighbour Totoro, Barbican Theatre
Paul Groothuis, Into the Woods, Theatre Royal Bath
Adam Fisher, The Band’s Visit, Donmar Warehouse
Drew Levy, Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Oklahoma!, Young Vic

BEST VIDEO DESIGN
Luke Halls and Zakk Hein, The Book of Dust: La Belle Sauvage, Bridge Theatre
Douglas O’Connell, Identical, Nottingham Playhouse and The Lowry, Salford
Finn Ross, Spring Awakening, Almeida Theatre
Finn Ross and Andrea Scott, My Neighbour Totoro, Barbican Theatre
Joshua Thorson, Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Oklahoma!, Young Vic
Max Spielbichler, Best of Enemies, Young Vic and Noël Coward Theatre

BEST GRAPHIC DESIGN sponsored by HEXAGON PRINT
AKA, Tammy Faye, Almeida Theatre
Bob King Creative, My Fair Lady, London Coliseum and tour
Felicity McCabe and National Theatre Graphic Design Studio, The Crucible, National Theatre
Muse Creative Communications, The Book of Dust: La Belle Sauvage, Bridge Theatre
Studio Doug, Prima Facie, Harold Pinter Theatre
Toshio Suzuki and Dewynters, My Neighbour Totoro, Barbican Theatre

JUDGES
These are truly the “theatregoers’ choice” prizes, the only major theatre awards in which the audience are the judges. The 2023 awards covers the best theatre from 26 November 2021 and 22 November 2022.

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