One is a big-budget musical celebrating a cult comedy while another began life as an obscure production at a little-known theatre which did not expect to reach the West End.
But both musicals - Spamalot, based on Monty Python material, and Sunday in the Park with George, the relatively obscure Stephen Sondheim production - are celebrating today after receiving multiple nominations for the Laurence Olivier Awards, which recognise excellence on the London stage.
Spamalot, which came to the West End after a successful run on Broadway, took seven nominations including Tim Curry for best actor and Hannah Waddingham for best actress, as well as a nomination for best new musical.
The Sondheim show, which opened at a 160-seat theatre, took six nominations in some of the more prestigious categories, including Jenna Russell for best actress in a musical, Daniel Evans for best actor in a musical, and Sam Buntrock for best director.
David Babani, producer of Sunday in the Park with George, is the artistic director of the Menier Chocolate Factory, an intimate three-year-old theatre in Southwark where the play opened in December 2005. He said he could never have expected such success for a musical that was "stigmatised for its horrible inaccessibility". It transferred to the West End in May last year. "It's always the ones you least expect. When we were doing it, we realised it was a relatively unloved, relatively obscure, complicated and utterly uncommercial musical. We never thought it would have a life beyond the Chocolate Factory. It's very heart-warming that the judging panel and the public recognise quality when they see it."
The central figure of the musical is the 19th century pointillist painter Georges Seurat. He is shown depicting his lover, Dot, as well as constructing his masterpiece, A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of Le Grande Jatte, while characters from the painting roam intermittently across stage.
Daniel Evans, who was nominated for his portrayal of Seurat, said the idea for the production was sparked when he and Babani came across the Seurat painting while on a trip to Chicago a couple of years ago.
"We had a conversation about the musical but I never imaged that, nine months later, I'd be in it. It's technically one of the hardest shows to do. It has a large cast and digital technology and during rehearsal I thought, because of its famous difficulty, I'd never learn it," he said. The musical, which has already won the 2006 Critics Circle Drama Award and the Time Out Live Award, among others, is expected to open on Broadway by the end of the year.
Hannah Waddington, who plays the Lady of the Lake in Spamalot, said: "It's one of the most exhausting parts I have ever played. I have to go across three and a half octaves every night. I have to go from doing very dramatic opera to jazz to rock. At the same time, I have never seen such a response from an audience. We have them eating from the palm of our hands. People love Monty Python, and good old-fashioned humour. And the cast are bang-on," she said.
The musical, written by Eric Idle, incorporates some songs from the 1975 film Monty Python and the Holy Grail, to tell the tale of King Arthur's quest.
In a year when new and revival musicals dominated the West End, Wicked, Cabaret, Evita and Porgy and Bess notched up at least three nominations each, while Tom Stoppard's Rock 'n' Roll received four nominations. Stoppard commended Ian Dickinson, the sound engineer at the Royal Court, after the play was nominated for best sound- design. He said: "In Rock 'n' Roll the inter-scenes are part of the play. Ian is largely responsible for them and for the graphics which go with the music."
The awards ceremony will take place on 18 February.
Eve Best; A Moon for the Misbegotten
Sinead Cusack; Rock 'n' Roll
Tamsin Greig; Much Ado About Nothing
Kathleen Turner; Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
Iain Glen; The Crucible
David Haig; Donkey's Years
Frank Langella; Frost/Nixon
Rufus Sewell; Rock 'n' Roll
Michael Sheen; Frost/Nixon
Best New Play
Blackbird; by David Harrower
Frost/Nixon; by Peter Morgan
Rock 'n' Roll; by Tom Stoppard
The Seafarer; by Conor McPherson
Best New Comedy
The 39 Steps; adapted by Patrick
Barlow; from an original concept by Simon Corble and Nobby Dimon
Don Juan in Soho; by Patrick Marber
Love Song; by John Kolvenbach
The Crucible; by Arthur Miller
Donkey's Years; by Michael Frayn
A Moon for the Misbegotten; by Eugene O'Neill
Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?; by Edward Albee
Best New Musical
Caroline, Or Change
Monty Python's Spamalot
The Gershwins' Porgy and Bess
Best Actress in a Musical
Nicola Hughes; The Gershwins' Porgy and Bess
Tonya Pinkins; Caroline, Or Change
Elena Roger; Evita
Jenna Russell; Sunday in the Park with George
Hannah; Waddingham Monty Python's Spamalot
Best Actor in a Musical
Tim Curry; Monty Python's Spamalot
Daniel Evans; Sunday in the Park with George
Clarke Peters; The Gershwins' Porgy and Bess
Philip Quast; Evita
Sam Buntrock; Sunday in the Park with George
Dominic Cooke; The Crucible
Joe Mantello; WickedReuse content