Billy Elliot trio dance into prime position for Olivier prize

They are only adolescents, and hardly household names. But the young boys who take it in turns to star as Billy Elliot will battle it out with the Guys And Dolls stars Ewan McGregor and Douglas Hodge for the title of best actor in a musical at this year's Laurence Olivier Awards.

James Lomas, 15, George Maguire, 15, and Liam Mower, 13, get a collective nomination in a haul of nine - including best director for Stephen Daldry - secured by the stage adaptation of the film. They are the youngest actors to be shortlisted in the 30 years of the awards.

Daldry said: "I am absolutely delighted, particularly for the boys who for more than two years have worked incredibly hard and continue to dazzle and amaze me." With eight chances of success, the Guys And Dolls director Michael Grandage can scarcely be regretting his decision to persuade McGregor to make his West End musical debut.

There were also multiple nominations for several heavyweight productions, notably six for Don Carlos by Friedrich Schiller starring Derek Jacobi.

In what proved an astonishing year for the 18th-century German playwright, the Donmar Warehouse production of Schiller's Mary Stuart also receives a clutch of nominations.

Its co-stars Janet McTeer and Harriet Walter go head-to-head as best actress in an impressive shortlist which also includes Eve Best's acclaimed Hedda Gabler.

Hedda Gabler, by Henrick Ibsen, transferred to the West End from the Almeida in London, helping to distribute nominations fairly equally between the capital's leading venues. The National Theatre secured seven, principally for the new play, Coram Boy, adapted by Helen Edmundson from a novel by Jamila Gavin.

The Royal Court, the traditional home of new writing, gets one shot at the best new play title, with Richard Bean's work on pig farming, Harvest, while the National secures three - for Coram Boy, On the Shore of the Wide World by Simon Stephens and Paul, the examination of the life of the apostle, by Howard Brenton.

Other productions to be recognised include the Young Vic's A Raisin in the Sun, The Big Life, which was the first British black musical in the West End, and Frank McGuinness's Someone Who'll Watch Over Me, for which David Threlfall gets a shot at best actor.

His rivals include the American Brian Dennehy for his performance as Willy Lomax in Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman, Derek Jacobi in Don Carlos and Richard Griffiths for Heroes.

The nominations threw up some oddities. Though the critics had reservations about Victoria Wood's Acorn Antiques - the Musical! it is up for three awards. Ducktastic, the latest show from the Right Size duo directed by Kenneth Branagh, has a best entertainment nomination despite poor audiences which forced it to close early.

The winners will be announced in London on 26 February.

The contenders

BEST ACTRESS

* Eve Best for Hedda Gabler

* Clare Higgins for Death Of A Salesman

* Helen McCrory for As You Like It

* Janet McTeer for Mary Stuart

BEST ACTOR

* Brian Dennehy for Death Of A Salesman

* Richard Griffiths for Heroes

* Derek Jacobi for Don Carlos

* Con O'Neill for Telstar

* David Threlfall for Someone Who'll Watch Over Me

BEST ACTRESS IN A MUSICAL

* Haydn Gwynne for Billy Elliot - The Musical

* Jane Krakowskfor Guys And Dolls

* Jenna Russell Guys And Dolls

* Julie Walters for Acorn Antiques - The Musical!

BEST ACTOR IN A MUSICAL

* Douglas Hodge for Guys And Dolls

* Ewan McGregor for Guys And Dolls

* James Lomas, George Maguire and Liam Mower for Billy Elliot - The Musical

BEST DIRECTOR

* Stephen Daldry for Billy Elliot - The Musical

* Richard Eyre for Hedda Gabler

* Michael Grandage for Don Carlos

* Phyllida Lloyd for Mary Stuart

* Melly Still for Coram Boy

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