Opinion: Reaction to the WhatsOnStage Awards 2019

This year’s awards celebrated a diverse range of talent – with a few surprises in terms of winners. Emma Clarendon offers a few thoughts on last night’s ceremony.

There is certainly plenty to take away from this year’s WhatsOnStage Awards – much of it positive, particularly in the diverse range of winners that the 2019 awards have celebrated.

From a personal point of view, I was particularly pleased to see Maria Aberg’s production of Little Shop of Horrors at the Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre over the Summer last year did so well, winning Best Musical Revival, Best Poster and Best Set Design. In all of these categories – this was a production that did have some tough competition as in other categories such as Best Costume Design, just missing out to Paul Tazewell for Hamilton. It was easily the craziest show I saw last year – but it was so much fun that I’m really pleased it got the recognition that it deserved.

Elsewhere, for anyone who knows me really well knows that I also thoroughly enjoyed Michael Grandage’s production of The Lieutenant of Inishmore at the Noel Coward Theatre and so was backing everyone who was nominated in the WhatsOnStage Awards. While I was disappointed that Chris Walley missed out on Best Supporting Actor and Charlie Murphy for Best Actress – I was at least *appeased by Aidan Turner winning Best Actor for his performance (*extremely happy).

Leading on from this, it was also satisfying to see director Michael Grandage being awarded the Equity Award for Services to Theatre this year. Having consistently enjoyed the diverse range of stories and productions he has directed over the last few years, he thoroughly deserved it.

But it has to be said that there were a few surprises. For example, given the critical acclaim that Marianne Elliott’s production of Company received it was somewhat surprising that although it left with several big awards, the production didn’t leave with more. However as the production won Best Director for Marianne Elliott and Best Supporting Actress in a Musical for Patti LuPone perhaps everyone involved wasn’t too disappointed.

Elsewhere, The Madness of George III also did well scooping up Best Revival of a Play and Best Supporting Actor in a Play for Adrian Scarborough. I also expected that The Inheritance would have picked up a few more awards – but it did well with winning Best New Play and Best Supporting Actress for Vanessa Redgrave.

Throughout the ceremony, it still feels as though the enthusiasm for musicals is still more prominent given the difference of reaction to musical awards to the play awards which was slightly disappointing to witness. It also should be noted that it is a shame that for musicals – there is no Best Score in a Musical Award (excepting Best Original Cast Recording – this year won by Everybody’s Talking About Jamie) or recognition of the music in a play – which feels like a bit of a serious lapse. It is an immensely important element that deserves to be recognised in future ceremonies.

But the whole evening was entertaining and lively – definitely one of the best WhatsOnStage Awards that I have been to in recent years. It felt for the most part a real celebration of just how diverse theatre has been in the last year. The choice of musical interludes was also excellent – with Rachel Tucker putting in a stunning rendition of ‘Me and the Sky’ from Come From Away and the cast of The Lion King performing ‘One By One’ proving to be particular highlights.

Overall, this was one of the best WhatsOnStage Awards that I have attended in recent years.

By Emma Clarendon

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