Double award nomination proves there's no problem with Maria

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The Independent Culture

Connie Fisher was a complete unknown a few months ago but had one of the most high-profile theatrical first nights of the year as the star of The Sound of Music.

And the public love affair with the 23-year-old shows no sign of abating as she scooped two nominations in the only awards chosen by the theatregoing public.

Fisher is in the running for best actress in a musical against the leads of Evita, Spamalot and Wicked. She has also been nominated for newcomer of the year in the What's On Stage Theatregoers' Choice Awards 2007. In what has been an unprecedented year for musicals in the West End, The Sound of Music has the most nominations - eight in total.

Fisher's co-star, Alexander Hanson, who stepped in to the production at the last minute, is up for best actor in a musical against a shortlist including Tim Curry for Spamalot.

Evita, the first revival of Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber's life of Eva Peron in the West End since its premiere, has seven nominations while Cabaret has six. Two Broadway imports, Wicked and Spamalot, secure four apiece but the National Theatre takes on the Americans at their own game with Caroline, Or Change, its acclaimed production of Tony Kushner's civil rights drama which gets five.

However, the shortlists - drawn up from more than 2,000 public votes - recognise esoteric classics as well as the musical blockbusters.

Harold Pinter's haunting performance in Samuel Beckett's Krapp's Last Tape at the Royal Court, fulfilled despite a year of ill health, has secured him a best solo performance nomination. Kevin Spacey is up for best actor for his emotionally draining portrayal of a drunk in A Moon for the Misbegotten.

Despite his occasional clashes with the critics, it is the second year in a row that the public have nominated the Hollywood star and artistic director of the Old Vic for best actor.

His rivals for the title include Michael Sheen and Frank Langella who play David Frost and the former American president Richard Nixon in Frost/Nixon, which started at the Donmar, and Iain Glen for the Royal Shakespeare Company's production of The Crucible.

Rufus Sewell is also in the running for best actor, one of five nominations, for Rock 'n' Roll, the latest work from Tom Stoppard, which has also been nominated in the best new play category. Cast members Sinead Cusack and Alice Eve both have nominations - for best actress and best supporting actress respectively - while Trevor Nunn will battle it out for the director's award. His rivals include Michael Grandage, the artistic director of the Donmar, who is nominated for three productions - Ibsen's The Wild Duck, Evita and Frost/Nixon. It has been announced that both Bent by Martin Sherman and Tennessee Williams' Summer and Smoke are to close early but their respective stars, Alan Cumming and Rosamund Pike, are both contenders for best performer awards.

Other new arrivals to London theatre, including the former EastEnders actor Nigel Harman and the Hollywood stars Patrick Swayze and Kathleen Turner, have won nominations alongside the British stage veterans Michael Gambon, Felicity Kendal and Judi Dench.

Terri Paddock, of whatsonstage.com, which organises the awards, said public opinion could differ from the critics although many of their shortlisted shows had been well reviewed too.

"What I find very encouraging is the diversity of the nominations," she said. "We're spoilt for choice by the high quality of the plays and the musicals."

Many of the nominees attended a party yesterday marking the 10th anniversary of whatsonstage.com. Final awards voting opens online on Monday and winners will be announced in early February.

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