The BBC Radio 2 Audience Award is now open for voting, with any show open before 15 February 2013 and still running on 13 April 2014, having not announced a closing date, eligible to win the coveted Olivier Award. That gives you a choice of 16 shows to vote for, and vote you should, not least because one voter will win a pair of tickets for each of the shows that make it onto the Audience Award shortlist.
You might already have a clear favourite – if, for example, you’ve seen the same show 57 times – but if not, let us help with our Premier League/World Cup/any sporting event preview-style guide to the runners and riders:
About the show: Four actors play 139 roles in this comic take on John Buchan’s mystery novel and Alfred Hitchcock’s famous film noir. Bored London gentleman Richard Hannay finds his life changes – unsurprisingly – when a woman is murdered in his apartment.
Star player: This is very much a team effort. How can it not be when that many characters are played by so few performers?
Fascinating fact: 139 roles in 100 minutes, that’s 1.39 characters per minute.
Previous form: Won Best New Comedy in 2007.
About the show: The hit 1990s film about a global superstar forced to hire a new protector when a stalker becomes dangerous is adapted for the stage. The tale of will-they-won’t-they love boasts a host of songs made famous by the film’s original star Whitney Houston.
Star player: British soul star Beverley Knight leads the cast as diva Rachel Marron. She brought a fresh energy to the show when she joined the cast last September.
Fascinating fact: Whitney Houston has sold more than 200 million records worldwide.
Previous form: Received four Olivier Award nominations in 2013. First time eligible for the Audience Award.
About the show: Based on Mark Haddon’s all-conquering book, The Curious Incident… tells the story of a teenage boy who has trouble interpreting everyday life. When he finds a neighbour’s dog impaled on a garden fork, he embarks on a mission to uncover the culprit, discovering more than he could have imagined.
Star player: Marianne Elliot. The director pulled the strings on an incredible creative team, bringing everything together to create one marvellous production.
Fascinating fact: Haddon’s book sold more than two million copies, winning Whitbread Prizes for Best Novel and Book of the Year.
Previous form: Won a record-equalling seven Olivier Awards in 2013, including Best New Play. First time eligible for the Audience Award.
About the show: Based on the Disney film that was, allegedly, based on Hamlet. The Lion King is the story of lion cub Simba who, following the killing of his father by his unscrupulous uncle, is forced to grow up and save the pride.
Star player: Julie Taymor and Michael Curry’s incredible puppets, which set a new benchmark for stage productions when the production opened on Broadway in 1997.
Fascinating fact: The young Nala and young Simba must be played by children between 135 and 148cm tall.
Previous form: Received eight nominations in 2000, winning awards for Costume Design (Julie Taymor) and Choreography (Garth Fagan).
About the show: The tale of how blue collar boys from New Jersey became one of the world’s favourite bands, featuring the hit songs of Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons. If you think you don’t know any of their songs, you’re probably wrong, and you’ll realise that within five minutes of the show’s opening.
Star player: Ryan Molloy. The actor has been playing Frankie Valli since the show opened in London in 2008.
Fascinating fact: Jersey Boys has been seen by more than 18 million people worldwide.
Previous form: Nominated for four Olivier Awards in 2009, winning Best New Musical. Twice shortlisted for the Audience Award.
About the show: Brightly coloured Lycra. Fabulously shoehorned songs. A soundtrack by Sweden’s greatest pop export. What’s not to love about Mamma Mia!, the original stage show that led to one of the most loved films ever made?
Star player: Judy Cramer. The powerhouse producer who saw the potential to bring ABBA’s music to the stage and then to the silver screen.
Fascinating fact: Downton Abbey’s Mrs Patmore, Lesley Nicol, previously played Rosie in the London production of Mamma Mia!
Previous form: Nominated for four Olivier Awards in 2000, winning Best Supporting Performance in a Musical (Jenny Galloway).
About the show: Roald Dahl’s tale of a young girl, unloved by her parents and bullied by her school headmistress, who outwits the adults in an attempt to get her own back. With added music by the blissfully witty Tim Minchin.
Star player: The cast of young performers. If they weren’t so spectacularly good the show wouldn’t be the delectable treat it is.
Fascinating fact: The costume for former hammer-thrower turned domineering headmistress The Trunchbull includes a prosthetic wart with precisely four hairs growing from it.
Previous form: Set a new record of seven Olivier Award wins in one night, including Best Musical, in 2012. Shortlisted for the Audience Award in 2013.
About the show: The West End’s longest running musical, Les Mis takes audiences to revolutionary France, where former convict Jean Valjean is trying to do the right thing with his life while being chased down by the righteous Inspector Javert.
Star player: The London production currently features Carrie Hope Fletcher as Eponine. Not heard of her, well she’s the sister of McFly’s Tom and her YouTube channel is followed by more than 440,000 people.
Fascinating fact: Each performance uses 392 costumes that include 5,000 separate pieces of clothing and 85 wigs.
Previous form: Nominated for four Olivier Awards in 1985, winning Outstanding Performance of the Year by an Actress in a Musical (Patti LuPone). Won the Audience Award in 2012. Shortlisted in 2011.
About the show: Agatha Christie’s great whodunit was playing in London well before the Olivier Awards had even been created. The tale of murder at a snowbound country retreat has had audiences guessing the identity of the killer since 1952.
Star player: The secret. Since The Mousetrap first opened, audiences have amazingly kept tight-lipped about who the murderer is. To find out, you have to see the show.
Fascinating fact: David Raven set the Guinness World Record for Most Durable Actor following4,575 performances as Major Metcalf.
Previous form: As it was created before the Olivier Awards existed, The Mousetrap does not have any statuettes on its mantelpiece.
About the show: Andrew Lloyd Webber’s masked musical monster has been stalking the West End for more than a quarter of a century. His tale is one of hideous disfigurement, unrequited love, a talented ingénue and an appetite for death.
Star player: The Phantom. No matter who plays him, with his pure white half-mask the Phantom is a musical theatre icon.
Fascinating fact: The show’s famous chandelier weighs one tonne and is made of 6,000 beads.
Previous form: Nominated for three Olivier Awards in 1986, winning Musical of the Year and Outstanding Performance of the Year by an Actor in a Musical (Michael Crawford). Won the Audience Award in 2002. Shortlisted in 2010 and 2013.
About the show: You know how you thought bins were just receptacles for rubbish and brooms were tools for clearing up dirt… Think again. Those clever people at Stomp have been using them to thump out rhythms and entertain audiences since the 1990s.
Star player: The props. You’d never think a matchbox or a kitchen sink could be so tuneful.
Fascinating fact: Stomp’s creators, Luke Cresswell and Steve McNicholas, met when they were both members of the catchily named street band Pookiesnackenburger.
Previous form: Nominated two Olivier Awards in 1994, winning Best Choreographer (Cresswell and McNicholas).
About the show: Moonwalking, crotch-grabbing, trilby-wearing, solo glove-sporting, hee-hee-ing; it’s all here in the musical spectacular celebrating the music of King of Pop Michael Jackson and his early years in the Jackson Five.
Star player: The music. Come on, who can resist the urge to join in with the actions to Blame It On The Boogie or the temptation to dance like a zombie to Thriller?
Fascinating fact: Thriller Live holds the record for the longest running show in the history of the Lyric Theatre.
Previous form: Yet to have made it onto the Audience Award shortlist.
About the show: The stage adaptation of Michael Morpurgo’s World War I-set novel is a touching story of friendship. Young Albert Narracott raises the foal Joey until he is fully grown only to see his father sell the horse to the infantry. An underage Albert enlists and embarks on a mission to bring his friend home.
Star player: Joey. Yes, he’s a puppet horse, but so good are the puppeteers that you’ll forget that within about 30 seconds, completely buying into his equine emotions instead.
Fascinating fact: Contractually, no-one in the cast is allowed to ride a real horse for fear of injury.
Previous form: Nominated for six Olivier Awards in 2008, winning Best Set Design (Rae Smith and Handspring Puppet Company) and Best Theatre Choreographer (Toby Sedgwick). Shortlisted for the Audience Award in 2010.
About the show: Stamp stamp clap. Stamp stamp clap. The unmistakable sound of British rock band Queen brought to the stage in a story about a world in which individuality and rock music is banned and where only one person can bring about a change.
Star player: Serial West End rock leading man, having previously starred in Rock Of Ages, Olivier Tompsett is currently making audiences go Radio Ga Ga.
Fascinating fact: We Will Rock You has been seen by more than 15 million people worldwide.
Previous form: Nominated for one Olivier Award in 2003. Won the Audience Award in 2011. Shortlisted in 2010.
About the show: The untold story of the witches of Oz takes audiences back to when Glinda the Good and Elphaba, the Wicked Witch of the West, first meet as teenagers. Back then there was less cackling, Elphaba had never worn a black pointy hat, and she was far from the evil entity we know from The Wizard Of Oz.
Star player: Currently getting greened-up each night is Dutch musical theatre star Willemijn Verkaik, who has now performed as Elphaba in three different languages.
Fascinating fact: The exact shade of Elphaba’s make-up is MAC Landscape Green.
Previous form: Nominated for four Olivier Awards in 2007. Won the Audience Award in 2010. Shortlisted in 2012 and 2013.
About the show: “No, don’t look in the attic!” Surely the cry of every audience member to have ever enjoyed the spooky long-running West End show about a lawyer on a business trip to an abandoned house.
Star player: The show’s ingenuity. Two actors use minimal props to play numerous characters, create a plethora of locations and make audiences leap out of their skins.
Fascinating fact: The Fortune Theatre, where the show plays, is said to actually be haunted by a woman dressed in black.
Previous form: Yet to have made it onto the Audience Award shortlist.
Now you know the contenders, head over to the Olivier Awards website to vote for your favourite.