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BBC Radio 2 Audience Award shows: the little known facts

Published January 31, 2013

This week saw the launch of the BBC Radio 2 Audience Award, the only publicly voted award at the Olivier Awards 2013 with MasterCard. As well as giving you a say in which show takes home one of London theatre’s most prestigious accolades of the year when the winners are revealed on 28 April at the Royal Opera House, your vote will also enter you into a prize draw to win tickets to the ceremony itself.

But while you may know your Phantom from your Billy and your Doo Wop from your skiffle, do you know which West End show has had 31 actors play the lead role in eight years or uses 14,000 litres of water a performance? No? Then read on for a selection of fascinating facts about each of the shows in with the chance of taking this year’s audience favourite crown before you cast your all-important vote.

The 39 Steps

Four actors play a staggering 139 roles in this production; that’s quite a feat in 100 minutes. The show has played at the Criterion theatre since 2009 making it the longest running consecutive show ever in the theatre’s 137 year history. The production relies on numerous props including three stuffed ravens, a toy chicken and two mini parachutes. Last summer the cast helped St Christopher’s Place to find special Bell Boys over the Olympic period by hosting open auditions and challenging potential employees to perform a scene from the show!

Billy Elliot The Musical

Now in its eighth year, the hugely popular musical about a boy who dreams of becoming a ballerina has been seen by almost four million people in London. Jamie Bell first made the title role famous in the 2000 film, but there have now been 31 boys to play the leading role on the West End stage, including the 31st Billy, Redmand Rance who is currently appearing in the show alongside three other actors who share the role. Since opening in 2005, the show has staged productions around the world, including the first non-English language version in 2011 in Seoul.

Jersey Boys

The tale of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons could have been rather different if they’d kept their original line-up and name The Varietones and The Lovers. The band may have sold 175 million records worldwide, but the West End musical is not doing badly itself, having been seen by more than 2.2 million people since it opened in 2008. Ryan Molloy has played the lead role of Valli since the show opened in 2007.

Disney’s The Lion King

Running an almighty 14 years, Disney’s The Lion King welcomed its 10 millionth visitor in 2012. The production features more than 230 intricate masks and amazing puppets which are created in a workshop at the Lyceum theatre and are cast from the original sculptures by Julie Taymor, creator of the show, inspired by everything from traditional African masks to Balinese shadow puppets. The young Nala and young Simba must be played by children between 135 and 148cm tall!

Mamma Mia!

Mamma Mia! has now played at three theatres in London, including its current home the Novello theatre, and in the past 10 years has been seen by more than seven million people. Producer Judy Craymer convinced ABBA songwriters Björn Ulvaeus and Benny Andersson that the musical would be a success when she met them in 1983 while they were working with Tim Rice on hit musical Chess. While Craymer’s latest production Viva Forever! may be all about girl power, so was Mamma Mia! with three women at the helm, Craymer, director Phyllida Lloyd and writer Catherine Johnson.

Matilda The Musical

One of the new editions to 2012’s list of eligible shows, the Royal Shakespeare Company’s hit musical broke Olivier Award records last year when it took home seven awards, securing it a place in the Guinness Book of World Records. Three girls currently alternate the role of Matilda, while the adult role of the Trunchbull is given extra gross factor by a prosthetic wart with exactly four hairs sticking out of it! Open auditions are held regularly to find new Matildas and she must be particularly little – under 4 foot 3 – while her class mates can be up to a larger 5 foot.

The Mousetrap

The Mousetrap holds possibly the most impressive theatrical fact of all; it’s the longest running stage production of its kind in the world! In its 60 years, more than 16 miles of shirts have been ironed, more than 415 tons of ice cream has been consumed by audience members, a Guinness World Record has been won by David Raven for his 4,575 performances in the show, while Nancy Seabrooke spent a record-breaking 15 years working as an understudy on the production.

One Man, Two Guvnors

This is the first year One Man, Two Guvnors has been eligible for the BBC Radio 2 Audience Award having opened in the West End in 2011 following a sell-out season at the National Theatre. The show features a skiffle band called The Craze who entertain audiences night after night in the scene changes. James Corden originated the role of food-loving Francis Henshall before handing over the reins to his understudy Owain Arthur for the West End run. He recently made way for comedian Rufus Hound.

The Phantom Of The Opera

Last year saw legendary musical The Phantom Of The Opera enter its 27th year in the West End. Around the world it has been seen by more than 130 million people with higher box office revenues than any film or stage play in history. The famous Paris Opera House chandelier in the production consists of 6,000 beads and weighs one tonne. Every performance has 230 costumes and uses an impressive 250kg of dry ice!

Rock Of Ages

Another new entry to the eligible long-running shows, Rock Of Ages features more mullets than any other show in the West End. Okay, we don’t know that for sure, but it’s probably a good bet. Rockin all over the world and the West End, the show has played at two different homes in the West End and the has featured a cameo appearance by real-life rock icon Alice Cooper.

Singin’ In The Rain

Every performance of Singin’ In The Rain relies on half a mile of flexible pipe work, a 10 tonne water tank housed in the orchestra pit and more than 14,000 litres of water which is rain downed (and recycled) onto the heads of the production’s stars. The show was first seen in Chichester Festival Theatre and opened last year to critical acclaim, making this year its first appearance in the Audience Award list.


Stomp reached new heady heights of fame last year when the production opened the London 2012 Closing Ceremony, with 40 cast members from 13 different nations climbing across the stadium’s iconic London landmarks set and performing its unique style of percussion – bin lids included – 10 years after it first opened in the West End. Stomp actually began life as a 30 minute production after the show’s creators met when they were both members of the less catchily titled street band Pookiesnackenburger.

Thriller Live

Thriller Live reached a milestone this week when six-year-old Channelle Koroglu became the millionth customer to watch the tribute show to legendary performer Michael Jackson. The show was created by Adrian Grant who wrote the first ever Jackson fanzine, Off The Wall, in 1988 and was later invited to Jackson’s Neverland Valley. Last year the show’s producers launched the MJ Academy for budding young actors wanting to perform as the young Jackson.

War Horse

Famous for its stunning puppets, each horse takes three puppeteers to control. The puppeteers have to make sure they keep fit to take the strain, telling us back in 2010 they keep strong with pilates and regular physiotherapy. While they might study horses to help bring the show to life, ironically no one in the cast is allowed to ride a horse; a clause in their contract states that the risk of broken bones or injury is too great.

We Will Rock You

We Will Rock You won the Audience Award in 2011 and is the ninth longest running current West End show, performing more than 4,000 times since it opened in 2002. More than 15 million people have seen the show worldwide and it pushed classic musical Grease of the record books when it became the longest ever running show at the Dominion theatre.


Wicked was the proud winner of the first ever Audience Award in 2010 and is the 16th longest-running show in West End history. Idina Menzel originated the role of green-skinned – created with MAC Landscape Green according to our research – Elphaba on both West End and Broadway. The role is now played by Louise Dearman, who previously played the character’s rival Glinda, making her the first person in the world to have played both roles.

The Woman In Black

This play has been scaring audiences in the West End for an incredible 23 years! The show’s venue, the Fortune theatre, is itself alleged to be haunted by a woman dressed in black. Apparently during one performance, a cast member saw two women to the right of the stage before discovering there was no one – living at least – there…