The Best Musical field is at its most competitive in years with four big players duking it out for the top prize. 

The fact that the productions of Hairspray, Doctor Zhivago and Love Never Dies originated in Australia is cause for great pride in our industry and in all local theatregoers. Local Directors Simon Phillips and David Atkins have demonstrated that they more than hold their own against Broadway's Des McAnuff and London's Richard Eyre and Matthew Bourne.

Given the nature of the Helpmanns as a National competition, it would seem an advantage that Mary Poppins, Hairspray and Doctor Zhivago have all played both Sydney and Melbourne, while relative newcomer Love Never Dies has only played for a few weeks in Melbourne. 

Popular choices in the nominations include Green Room Award winners Verity Hunt-Ballard and Esther Hannaford. Hannaford, in particular, seems a very likely winner in her category. 

The flexibility of the process creates a couple of odd choices and omissions. Gemma Rix and David Harris are nominated from three year old Wicked. Fiyero, it must also be noted, seems more of a supporting than leading male role. Rock of Ages, despite having played longer than Love Never Dies, chose not to submit itself this year. 

Two leading pairs of lead actors divided voters. Hairspray's Jaz Flowers was nommed but there was no Helpmann love for Trevor Ashley. Newly minted star Ben Lewis drew the judges' eyes but not his stunning leading lady Anna O'Byrne. 

Under-appreciated actor Simon Gleeson is a worthy recipient of a Supporting Actor nomination, where he will go head to head with Green Room winner Philip Quast.

Doctor Zhivago, which struggled in terms of ticket sales towards the end of its time in Melbourne, will receive a boost for its upcoming Brisbane season with its seven nominations. Leading man Anthony Warlow is surely a favourite for Best Actor. If only this attention would mean that the abandoned cast recording could be back on the agenda.

Helpmann judges clearly closed their notepads at MTC's Australian premiere of the Broadway hit Next to Normal. The production divided critics somewhat and the voters obviously sided with the negative reviews.

The company of West Side Story would be justifiably upset at their lack of a nomination for choreography, especially given that there were only three nominations in this field.

No matter which shows take the trophies on 1 August, the real winners will be the viewers who can look forward to seeing numbers from this fabulous array of musicals.

THE NOMINEES

BEST MUSICAL
Hairspray, Doctor Zhivago, Mary Poppins and Love Never Dies

BEST MALE ACTOR IN A MUSICAL
Anthony Warlow (Doctor Zhivago), David Harris (Wicked), Matt Lee (Mary Poppins) and Ben Lewis (Love Never Dies)

BEST FEMALE ACTOR IN A MUSICAL

Jaz Flowers (Hairspray), Lucy Maunder (Doctor Zhivago), Jemma Rix (Wicked) and Verity Hunt-Ballard (Mary Poppins)

BEST MALE ACTOR IN A SUPPORTING ROLE IN A MUSICAL

Philip Quast (Mary Poppins), Martine Crewes (Doctor Zhivago), Scott Irwin (Hairspray), Simon Gleeson (Love Never Dies)

BEST FEMALE ACTOR IN A SUPPORTING ROLE IN A MUSICAL

Alinta Chidzey (West SIde Story), Esther Hannaford (Hairspray), Taneel van Zyl (Doctor Zhivago), Marina Prior (Mary Poppins)

BEST CHOREOGRAPHY IN A MUSICAL

Jason Coleman (Hairspray). Matthew Bourne and Stephen Mear (Mary Poppins), Graeme Murphy (Love Never Dies)

BEST DIRECTION OF A MUSICAL

Simon Phillips (Love Never Dies), Richard Eyre and Matthew Bourne (Mary Poppins), David Atkins (Hairspray), Des McAnuff (Doctor Zhivago)

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