LONDON — The theater trophy season got under way with the Nov. 17 short list for the awards handed out by the Evening Standard newspaper. The annual kudos will be presented in a lunchtime ceremony Dec. 13 at the National Theater.

In a move to further enhance the profile of the newspaper’s prizes, marking their half-century this year, the announcement of three nominees in each category was accompanied by a champagne pour at the Savoy Hotel, attended by some who had made the cut. (For a complete list of nominees, see Variety.com)

As always in London, guessing the victors is risky biz in a theater capital where commercial considerations tend to matter less than in New York. If London marched to the Broadway ethos, the Standard’s clear winners for play and musical would be “The History Boys” and “The Producers,” respectively.

Nor can the argument apply to favoring shows and performances that are still running, when five of the six nommed performers are in plays that have closed, in some cases months ago. On that front, fingers crossed for Victoria Hamilton, whose Catherine in “Suddenly Last Summer” remains the perf of this or any season; how designer Christopher Oram escaped mention for that same production is just one of oddities about the short list.

Some may balk at the failure of Conor McPherson‘s “Shining City” to get a nod as play (though thesp Stanley Townsend got a nod), while the non-mention anywhere of “Woman in White” ups the ante for the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical to figure prominently in the Olivier Awards, early in ’05.

Speaking of the Oliviers, theater critic Nicholas de Jongh got in his own dig at the competish when announcing his paper’s lineup. The Oliviers, said de Jongh, “are a junior award organized by the producers,” whereas it’s a panel of crix who decide the Standard outcome.

LIFT OFF

The London Intl. Festival of Theater (LIFT) has a new artistic director in Angharad Wynne-Jones, who, as befits her new job, is herself notably international: born in Chicago, educated in England and resident for the past 15 years or so in Australia.

Wynne-Jones, who starts her new gig in March, takes over from Lucy Neal and Rose Fenton, who together founded LIFT in 1979. Fenton told Variety she and Neal are “absolutely delighted with Angharad. She’s got an amazing sense of the possibilities of what our festival means today,” in part from having worked with Peter Sellars on the Adelaide Fest in 2000.

On the production front, LIFT is partnering Helen Marriage‘s Artichoke Prods. on a London citywide event called “The Elephant” for September, which comes to England courtesy a troupe based in Nantes, France. The piece, says Fenton, “will be like watching the eighth wonder of the world: It’s theater on a large scale you could never ever imagine.”

THE FINAL FIVE

From 2000 hopefuls, five winners have been culled from the ranks of Britain’s song-and-dance amateurs to appear for one night only on Nov. 25 in the West End production of “Chicago”: The event will be screened on Channel Four Dec. 1 as the fifth and final episode of producer Michael Waldman‘s series “Musicality,” which should give hope to anyone who’s ever dreamed of treading the boards.

“We’re not saying, ‘This is the way to become a star,’” says Waldman. What “Musicality” does is shift the focus from the “extraordinary people,” as professional performers often are thought to be, to “people who are like us; they do ordinary jobs.” The final 10 from whom those last five will be chosen include a waitress (nothing new there), a surgical instrument designer, a secondary school science teacher, and a sales adviser in soft furnishings at John Lewis department store.

And they can shimmy, too? All will be revealed on Thanksgiving night.

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