Emma Clarendon attending the 22nd annual WhatsOnStage Awards – here’s what she thought…

Rob Ashford, Samantha Barks, Stephanie McKeon and Michael Grandage (c)Dan Woller

What a wonderful feeling it was to be in the room celebrating theatre again for the WhatsOnStage Awards (although last year’s awards which celebrated those who have worked tirelessly to support the industry through difficult times was an interesting and thoughtful alternative) – the sheer joy and enthusiasm was a real joy to behold let alone be a part of.

As always, there is one show that does particularly well in this public voted awards and this year it was the turn of Frozen – winning seven in total including Best Direction for Michael Grandage and Best Choreography for Rob Ashford. It is a show that certainly dazzles and thoroughly deserves the awards it won – but I couldn’t help but feel slightly disappointed for the cast nominated (Stephanie McKeon, Samantha Barks, Obioma Ugoala and Oliver Ormson) as they certainly deliver memorable performances.

Elsewhere, I was particularly pleased for Jamie Lloyd’s production of Cyrano De Bergerac, winning two awards – for Best Play Revival and Best Performer in a Male Identifying Role in a Play for James McAvoy. It is such a wonderful production and it has been great to see it in the West End again. It is also wonderful to see Regional and Off West End productions being acknowledged as well – so massive congratulations to My Son’s A Queer But What Can You Do? by Rob Madge which appeared at The Turbine Theatre and the Hope Mill Theatre’s recent production of Rent for their wins.

Tsemaye Bob-Egbe, Meesha Turner, Dionne Ward-Anderson, Claudia Kariuki, Amanda Lindgren and Amy Di Bartolomeo accept the award for Best West End Show for SIX the Musical (c)Dan Woller.

While the awards are always good fun – on occasion it does feel a little bit predictable in terms of which way the awards are going to go – there is certainly more excitement when it comes to the announcement of winners for a musical, while plays don’t seem to get as high respect – and as the nominations for some categories were announced it just felt a little bit flatter in atmosphere. It is a real shame as there have been some truly excellent plays and revivals around.

There were also some wonderful live performances that showcased just how lucky we have been with theatre. For myself, I really enjoyed listening to the rich and gorgeous vocals of Gina Beck and Julian Ovenden singing ‘I’m in Love’ and ‘Some Enchanted Evening’ from South Pacific – heading to London and on a UK tour later this year – it makes me even more eager to see it! Elsewhere, Victoria Hamilton-Barritt and Rebecca Trehearn gave a gleefully enjoyable performance of ‘I Know You’ from Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Cinderella and Samantha Barks deservedly got a standing ovation for her performance of ‘Let it Go’. It felt like a real celebration of the variety of musicals audiences can go and see.

Eddie Redmayne accepts the award for Best Performer in a Male Identifying Role in a Musical for Cabaret (c)Dan Woller.

But the speeches themselves were also great and varied – while all acknowledged the difficulty of the last couple of years, the sense of gratitude of the winners of being able to get back and doing what they love was always sincere. Eddie Redmayne in particular acknowledged the incredibleness of swings and understudies in his acceptance speech which was lovely to hear, while many also praised the work of stage management – this was a ceremony that was about acknowledging and celebrating everyone in the theatre industry and not just those fortunate enough to win the awards.

Despite a few technical issues along the way, the ceremony was warm, heartfelt and and a joy to be in the audience for. Bring on next year!

By Emma Clarendon


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