It was the year of the big musical and, in the end, The Producers was the biggest winner of the lot. Like Jerry Springer – The Opera last year, the Broadway transfer of Mel Brooks’ comedy tonight became a four-time Best Musical winner. Adding to its wins at the Evening Standard, Critics Circle and our own Theatregoers' Choice Awards, at tonight’s ceremony at the London Hilton it scooped the Laurence Olivier Award for Best New Musical.

The Biggest Musical

The Producers beat out stiff competition from the world premiere of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s The Woman in White and the Cameron Mackintosh-Disney stage adaptation of Mary Poppins. It also won Oliviers for Best Actor in a Musical for Award winner Nathan Lane and Best Performance in a Supporting Role in a Musical for Conleth Hill.

Lane, of course, made headlines in the autumn for taking over from an injury-laden Richard Dreyfuss days before performances began at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane and then again ironically, at the end of his limited three-month stint, when he himself had to withdraw suffering from physical ailments. Flying in from the US to accept his award tonight, he noted how he had “entered and exited the show dramatically” and, before going on to thank members of the creative team and company, said, with tongue in cheek, “first of all, I’d like to thank Richard Dreyfuss without whom none of this would have been possible.”

He received the most applause, however, when singling out his co-star and fellow Best Actor in a Musical nominee Lee Evans, whom he praised as “the sweetest, kindest, most talented man in all of Christendom” and whom he said deserved “half of this” award. Evans got his own – extended - time in the limelight tonight when he took to the stage with Lane to accept the Best New Musical trophy on behalf of The Producers company. After amusing the audience with various sign-language and trouser-hiking gags and waving repeatedly at the band, he was ushered off only to race back out on stage three times to hold the Olivier statuette aloft to loud cheers and then play hide-and-seek with presenter Richard Wilson.

Despite leading the nominations with nine nods, Mary Poppins ended up taking home just two awards: Best Theatre Choreographer for Matthew Bourne and Stephen Mear and Best Actress in a Musical for Laura Michelle Kelly. The Woman in White’s single prize was for Mick Potter’s sound design. Elsewhere, amongst the revivals in the Outstanding Musical Production category, the Donmar Warehouse won out for a second year in a row (after last year’s Pacific Overtures) for Michael Grandage’s small-scale staging of Grand Hotel.

Bennett & His Historic Boys

The National’s relatively paltry showing at the shortlists stage last month – from 20 nominations in 2004 to eight this year – belied its success on the night. It won a total of six awards, two design awards (Best Lighting and Best Set for Paule Constable and Giles Cadle respectively) for His Dark Materials and, the biggest tally of all for any production in this year’s awards race, four for The History Boys. Three of those History Boys prizes were shortlisted categories – Best Actor for Richard Griffiths (adding to his Evening Standard and Critics’ Circle wins), Best New Play (ditto) and Best Director for NT artistic director Nicholas Hytner. In addition, author Alan Bennett won the Society’s Special Award in recognition of his outstanding contribution to British theatre.

Having accepted what he described as the “Zimmer frame award” earlier in the evening, Bennett seemed surprised to return to the podium later in the evening to collect the Best New Play trophy. “They’ve given me the other one already….I’ve nothing else to say,” he admitted, though he went on to note that, “All the cast have had two chances to leave if they wanted to and they’ve all stayed together. We’ve all enjoyed it so much and I hope that comes across.”

When sheepishly accepting his Best Director award, Hytner deferred to his fellow nominees, in particular Mary Poppins’ Richard Eyre and Matthew Bourne and The ProducersSusan Stroman. “There’s nothing spectacular going on at all” on stage of The History Boys, he said. “Directing a new musical, now that’s hard, that’s really hard. This, by comparison, was indecently pleasurable and I really don’t deserve it.”

The dominance of The History Boys didn’t go unnoticed by observers either. The production’s success prompted presenter Wilson to threaten: “I am going to take points off Alan Bennett. He’s won too many awards tonight. It’s verging on the tacky.”

Winners & Other Stars

Perhaps the biggest surprise of the night was in the category of Best Performance in a Supporting Role in which Amanda Harris from the Royal Shakespeare Company’s Othello beat out competition from Dame Judi Dench, Eddie Redmayne and The History Boys’ Samuel Barnett. Other key awards included: Best Actress for Clare Higgins in Hecuba and Best Revival for Trevor Nunn’s ‘student’ production of Hamlet at the Old Vic.

Presenters at the 2005 awards included: Patrick Stewart, Joshua Jackson, Kim Cattrall, Sheila Hancock, Brian Conley, Tim Healy, Elaine Paige, Adam Garcia, Celia Imrie, Arlene Phillips, Brad Oscar, Jill Halfpenny, Tamzin Outhwaite, Jamie Theakston, Carlos Acosta, Rebecca Evans, Victoria Wood and Philip Hedley.

Amongst the winners, nominees and other guests in the star-studded audience were: Kevin Spacey, Lisa Dillon, Jonathan Pryce, Caroline O'Connor, Richard Eyre, Maria Friedman, Julian Fellowes, David Haig, Victoria Hamilton, Cameron Mackintosh, Anna Maxwell Martin, Gavin Lee, Stephen Poliakoff, Rufus Norris, Clive Rowe, Ruby Turner, Rhashan Stone, Trevor Nunn, Imogen Stubbs and Ben Whishaw.

- by Terri Paddock

  • For the full list of 2005 Olivier winners & first photos, click here
  • For additional photos from the night, click here
  • For reporting on the entertainment & acceptance remarks, click here
  • For full lyrics of the song that rocked the party, click here
  • For additional titbits from the night in The Goss, click here
  • For an overview of the Oliviers & other awards in Features, click here