Three Shakespearean superstars squared off for acting honors on the Olivier shortlist, announced in London on Thursday. Ian McKellen's King Lear, Patrick Stewart's Macbeth and Chiwetel Ejiofor's Othello all earned nominations for best actor in a play, alongside John Simm for the Norwegian comedy "Elling" and Mark Rylance for the farce "Boeing-Boeing."
The Olivier awards, Britain's equivalent of Broadway's Tonys, honor achievements in London theater, musicals, dance and opera.
Jones, the "Hairspray" star, made her professional stage debut as hefty but irrepressible Tracy Turnblad who dreams of appearing on a local TV dance show in 1960s Baltimore.
"It feels amazing, very surreal," said Jones, a recent stage school grad who was working in a bank call center when she got the part. "The biggest news of my life came when I heard I had got 'Hairspray.' My life has changed in every single way it could possibly have changed."
"Hairspray" opened in London in October, five years after the musical adaptation of John Waters' 1988 cult film made its Broadway debut. It went on to win eight Tony Awards.
Stage star Michael Ball was nominated for best actor in a musical for his cross-dressing turn as Tracy's mother, Edna.
"Parade," a musical about crime and punishment in the early 20th-century American South, received seven nominations, including best new musical.
Other new-musical contenders include "The Lord of the Rings," which opened in June to mixed reviews. The $24 million adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien's fantasy saga - the most expensive production in West End history - gained five nominations, including lighting, set design, costume and sound.
"The Drowsy Chaperone," a Broadway hit but a West End flop that closed after two months, also got five nominations, including best new musical, best actress for Summer Strallen and best actor for Bob Martin.
Honors were widely spread in the drama categories. There were five nominations for Stewart's "Macbeth" at the Gielgud Theatre, and four for the Donmar Warehouse staging of "Othello," starring Ejiofor and Ewan McGregor.
Best-actress drama nominees are Anne-Marie Duff for "Saint Joan," Kelly Reilly for "Othello," Kristin Scott Thomas for "The Seagull," Fiona Shaw for "Happy Days" and Penelope Wilton for "John Gabriel Borkman."
Contenders for best new play are the National Theatre's "War Horse," adapted from Michael Morpurgo's novel about a World War I battle horse; the Young Vic's adaptation of D.B.C. Pierre's novel "Vernon God Little"; Nicholas Wright's study of a journalist, "The Reporter"; and theater company Complicite's take on the philosophy of mathematics, "A Disappearing Number."
The winners will be announced at a ceremony in London on March 9.
Nominations for the 2008 Laurence Olivier Awards, honoring achievement in theater, opera and dance in Great Britain:
New Play: "A Disappearing Number," "The Reporter," "Vernon God Little," "War Horse."
New Comedy: "Absurdia: The Crimson Hotel," "Elling," "Rafta Rafta," "Whipping It Up."
New Musical: "The Drowsy Chaperone," "Hairspray," "The Lord of the Rings," "Parade."
Revival: "Boeing-Boeing," "Dealer's Choice," "Macbeth," "Saint Joan."
Actress-Play: Anne-Marie Duff, "Saint Joan"; Kelly Reilly, "Othello"; Kristin Scott Thomas, "The Seagull"; Fiona Shaw, "Happy Days"; Penelope Wilton, "John Gabriel Borkman."
Actor-Play: Chiwetel Ejiofor, "Othello"; Ian McKellen, "King Lear"; Patrick Stewart, "Macbeth"; Mark Rylance, "Boeing-Boeing"; John Simm, "Elling."
Actress-Musical: Leanne Jones, "Hairspray"; Lara Pulver, "Parade"; Sheridan Smith, "Little Shop of Horrors"; Summer Strallen, "The Drowsy Chaperone."
Actor-Musical: Michael Ball, "Hairspray"; Bertie Carvel, "Parade"; Henry Goodman, "Fiddler on the Roof"; Bob Martin, "The Drowsy Chaperone."
Supporting Role-Play: Michelle Fairley, "Othello"; Pam Ferris, "The Entertainer"; Conleth Hill, "Philistines"; Rory Kinnear, "The Man of Mode."
Supporting Role-Musical: Tracie Bennett, "Hairspray"; Elinor Collett, "Hairspray"; Shaun Escoffery, "Parade"; Alistair McGowan, "Little Shop of Horrors."
Newcomer-Play: David Dawson, "The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby"; Tom Hiddleston, "Cymbeline"; Tom Hiddleston, "Othello"; Stephen Wight, "Dealer's Choice."
Director: Rob Ashford, "Parade"; Marianne Elliott and Tom Morris, "War Horse"; Rupert Goold, "Macbeth"; Jack O'Brien, "Hairspray."
Theater Choreography: Rob Ashford, "Parade"; Jerry Mitchell, "Hairspray"; Casey Nicholaw, "The Drowsy Chaperone"; Toby Sedgwick, "War Horse."
New Opera Production: English National Opera's "Agrippina," Royal Opera's "La Fille du Regiment," Royal Opera's "Pelleas et Melisande," English National Opera's "Turn of the Screw."
Outstanding Achievement in Opera: Natalie Dessay, "La Fille du Regiment"; Gerald Finley, "Pelleas et Melisande"; Angelika Kirchschlager, "Pelleas et Melisande"; David McVicar, "Turn of the Screw/Agrippina."
New Dance Production: "The Bull," "Jewels," "Mozart Dances," "The Three Musketeers."
Outstanding Achievement in Dance: Savion Glover for "Live for London"; Jonathan Goddard for performances with the Richard Alston Dance Company; The Royal Ballet Company for "Jewels"; Wendy Whelan for "Fool's Paradise."
By Jill Lawless