The awards have always been blessed with first-class guests to share the announcement duties, but I think this year's quintet of Tamzin Outhwaite, Belinda Lang, Mark Gatiss, Alistair McGowan and Stephen Tompkinson were as good as any we've had: Gatiss had us in stitches with his mock-sarcastic harping on being nominated only as a "supporting" actor, while McGowan threw in brilliant impersonations of Gyles Brandreth and Alan Bennett for good measure.
Lang delivered an impassioned speech as to why every actor should join Equity. This surprised those of us who assumed that you could only be employed as a professional actor if you were a member of Equity (much as journalists, years ago, were not employed unless they were members of their national union). She also revealed that she makes hats.
The adopted Whatsonstage.com charity this year is Interact, a splendid organisation that supplies after-school theatre classes for disadvantaged and disabled children. A crowd of them set the party mood with a lively concert, and we heard from Steph Manuel, founder of Stagecoach and Interact board member, that they're aiming to increase these classes from the present nine to a total of twenty by the end of next year. It was gratifying to see guests throwing money into the buckets while enjoying a glass of wine.
The cabaret included a catchy Christmas song by Richard Beadle, musical director of The Bodyguard, performed by a quartet of Zizi Strallen (just opened in Merrily We Roll Along at the Menier), one of several Strallens taking over musical theatre in London, led by their aunt Bonnie Langford - Tamzin Outhwaite said she wanted to go to their house for Christmas; Niamh Perry, my favourite finalist in I'd Do Anything (the search for a Nancy in Oliver! by trial on television), currently in the Taboo revival in Brixton; Stuart Matthew Price, pumping up the atmos in Sweet Smell of Success at the Arcola; and rising star Iwan Lewis.
After sitting patiently backstage for a couple of hours, the full cast of American Idiot treated us to one of the terrific Green Day numbers in their show at the Apollo, Hammersmith, all playing acoustic guitars.
Then it was party time, and it was great fun threading through the crowd and congratulating nominees as well as other performers in other current shows setting the town alight, such as Cush Jumbo in Julius Caesar at the Donmar and Jenna Russell in Merrily We Roll Along at the Menier. Alex Bourne, the handsome hunk lead in Kiss Me Kate at the Old Vic told me that an understudy called Michele Bishop had stood in sensationally for the indisposed Hannah Waddingham the night before; Trevor Nunn had been reduced to a tearful blob backstage, apparently.
Alex was with his agent, Barry Burnett, a longstanding friend of these awards, and he (Barry) suggested I tell the world of Michele Bishop's triumph as nobody else had. I'm sorry I didn't have a chance to greet Will Young, Maria Friedman or Vivien Goodwin of the Rodgers and Hammerstein European theatre wing, but I did catch up with producers Jeremy Meadow and Anthony Alderson, directors Ian Brown, David Gilmore (of the new St James) and Hannah Eidinow, as well as actors John Bett (so good in the National Theatre of Scotland's The Enquirer), Clive Rowe, Geoffrey Freshwater, Caroline Langrishe and Jonathan Coy.
Helen Mirren was in town, too, at a BAFTA screening on Saturday afternoon of the new Hitchcock movie in which she plays the wife of the great director, who is given a monumental, theatrical performance by Anthony Hopkins.
She joined a Q and A in the Soho Hotel with director Sacha Gervasi (best known for his heavy metal documentary film, Anvil) and graciously fielded questions from an audience that included legendary agent Robin Dalton, playwrights David Hare and Hanif Kureishi, director Michael Blakemore and film journalist (retired) George Perry, who pointed out that he had known Hitchcock and the film hadn't done him justice.
Gervasi and Mirren amazingly took this insult as a compliment to their work on leaving the file open on Hitch as a dirty old man who ogled his blonde stars with lascivious intent; the big thing in the film, certainly, is his enduring love for his wife who sees off Scarlett Johansson as Janet Leigh while playing around with another screenwriter, sort of, in order to bring the Hitch's focus back on her. It's all gently and cleverly done, but I don't see "big hit" written all over it.
Will this season's big hit be The Bodyguard or Viva Forever!, the new Spice Girls musical scripted by Jennifer Saunders, opening Tuesday night at the Piccadilly? First night critics have been issued with an "access pass" which they are advised to print off, and they are urged to be in their seats quarter of an hour before the 6.30pm start. It's like a state funeral at Westminster Abbey. Let's hope the show's not a dirge or, indeed, an unseemly riot.
All the streets around Piccadilly Circus are going to be no-go-areas, and critics are again darkly advised that they cannot approach the theatre from Glasshouse Street. Finally, in desperation, they are told they may collect tickets in the pub next door from 5.30pm -- but that street access to the pub will also be closed!
All of this nonsense started last year with barriers around the Palladium for the opening of The Wizard of Oz. The art of managing a big first night with any sort of tact or style is obviously a thing of the past, and producers are caught between not knowing what to do and wanting to maximise some sort of hysterical publicity.
Result? Security guards, barriers, clipboards and check lists, and dozens of people standing around looking officious but unhelpful. Let's hope the show's worth all the bother.