Page last updated at 17:21 GMT, Wednesday, 20 January 2010

Oliviers introduce audience award

Lion King cast members
The Lion King is one of the shows eligible to win

A new category will be added to the Laurence Olivier Awards in March, organisers have announced.

The audience award will be voted for by the public and presented to their favourite long-running London show.

Productions such as Blood Brothers, The Lion King, Mamma Mia, Dirty Dancing and Stomp are all eligible to win as they opened before 1 January 2009.

Nominees for the awards, which honour West End theatre, are announced next month. The ceremony is on 21 March.

Fans have until 12 noon on 1 February to vote for their favourite long-running production.

Only shows that opened during 2009 are eligible for all other categories.

Last year, actor Patrick Stewart won his third Laurence Olivier award for his role of Claudius in Hamlet.

Stewart landed best supporting actor for the Royal Shakespeare Company production, which starred David Tennant in the title role.

Jersey Boys scooped the best new musical title and a special Olivier award was presented to playwright Sir Alan Ayckbourn by Kevin Spacey, director of London's Old Vic.

The Oliviers are presented by The Society of London Theatre to honour the best West End stage productions.

They were first held in 1976 and became known as the Olivier Awards in 1984 when actor Sir Laurence Olivier agreed to them being named after him.

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