The big winner of the day was the Royal National Theatre and its repertory company, newly launched last year, which won a total of eight awards including the 'biggies' of Best Actor (Henry Goodman for The Merchant of Venice, who won the same award at last week's Critic's Circle Awards), Best Actor in a Musical (Simon Russell Beale for Candide), Best Director (NT artistic director Trevor Nunn), Best New Musical (Honk! The Ugly Duckling), Best Outstanding Musical Production (Candide) and both Best Supporting Actor and Actress (Roger Allam and Patricia Hodge, both for Money).
As the National winners made their acceptance speeches, they time and again paid tribute to the repertory experience, with director Nunn thanking 'the wonderful acting ensemble who's given me so much pleasure - they are multi-talented, multi-disciplined and multi-delightful'.
Still, even the NT seemed surprised at its success, especially where it ran up against the power of the Disney production. Lyricist Anthony Drewe commented, 'I guess the judges couldn't get tickets for The Lion King,' when presented with the Best New Musical award for Honk! while Trevor Nunn, in his acceptance speech for Best Director (an award he also won at this year's Evening Standard and Critic's Circle Awards), began by saying, 'If I had a casting vote in this category, I would have given it to Julie (Taymor). She's stunning and wonderfully imaginative.' And when Nunn earlier mounted the stage to pick up the Best Set Designer award on behalf of the NT's Rob Howell, he admitted that Howell hadn't instructed him to thank anyone because he was so certain of losing to The Lion King's Richard Hudson.
In other categories, Janie Dee achieved a hat trick, winning the Best Actress award yet again (following success at the Evening Standard and Critic's Circle Awards) for her performance as an android in Alan Ayckbourn's Comic Potential.
Barbara Dickson won Spend, Spend, Spend its only Olivier for Best Actress in a Musical, beating out competition from her co-star Rachel Leskovac. 'I've cornered the market in downtrodden Northern women,' Dickson joked about her role as the aging pools winner Viv Nicholson.
Jenny Galloway also triumphed over a co-star to win the award for Best Supporting Performance in a Musical, securing the sole award for the Abba-inspired mega hit Mamma Mia!. 'Thank you to you know who for the music,' she said, before giving 'special thanks to the two sensation women I've had the pleasure of working with on this show - Louise Plowright and Siobhan McCarthy, my love and gratitude to you both.'
Other awards went to Shelagh Stephenson's The Memory of Water for Best New Comedy and to Richard Nelson's Goodnight Children Everywhere for Best New Play.
The ceremony, presented by chat show host Clive Anderson, will be televised on BBC2 this Sunday, 20 February at 8.00pm.
The full list of winners is as follows:
BEST ACTRESS: Janie Dee for Comic Potential at the Lyric
BEST ACTOR: Roger Allam for Summerfolk at the RNT Olivier
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR: Roger Allam for Money at the RNT Olivier
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS: Patricia Hodge for Money at the RNT Olivier
BEST NEW MUSICAL: Honk! The Ugly Duckling, music by George Stiles, book and lyrics by Anthony Drewe, based on the story by Hans Christian Andersen at the RNT Olivier
OUTSTANDING MUSICAL PRODUCTION: Candide, music by Leonard Bernstein, book adapted from Voltaire by Hugh Wheeler, in a new version by John Caird, lyrics by Richard Wilbur, additional lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, John Latouche, Lillian Hellman, Dorothy Parker and Leonard Bernstein at the RNT Olivier
BEST NEW PLAY: Goodnight Children Everywhere by Richard Nelson, RSC at The Pit
BEST NEW COMEDY: The Memory of Water by Shelagh Stephenson at the Vaudeville
BEST ENTERTAINMENT: Defending the Caveman by Rob Becker at the Apollo
BEST ACTOR IN A MUSICAL: Simon Russell Beale for Candide at the RNT Olivier
BEST ACTRESS IN A MUSICAL: Barbara Dickson for Spend Spend Spend at the Piccadilly
BEST SUPPORTING PERFORMANCE IN A MUSICAL: Jenny Galloway for Mamma Mia at the Prince Edward
BEST THEATRE CHOREOGRAPHER: Garth Fagan for The Lion King at the Lyceum
BEST LIGHTING DESIGNER: Mark Henderson for Plenty, Almeida at the Albery, Spend Spend Spend at the Piccadilly, Suddenly Last Summer at the Comedy, The Forest at the RNT Lyttelton, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, RSC at the Barbican, The Real Thing at the Donmar Warehouse and now at the Albery, and Vassa, Almeida at the Albery
BEST COSTUME DESIGNER: Julie Taymor for The Lion King at the Lyceum
BEST NEW OPERA PRODUCTION: Welsh National Opera's Hansel and Gretel at Sadler's Wells
OUTSTANDING ACHIEVEMENT IN OPERA: English National Opera for its high standard of production and in particular for championing the works of Handel
BEST NEW DANCE PRODUCTION: Nederlands Dans Theater 1's Symphony of Psalms at Sadler's Wells
OUTSTANDING ACHIEVEMENT IN DANCE: Jiri Kylian for his artistic excellence and outstanding direction of Nederlands Dans Theater 1's season at Sadler's Wells.