'Spamalot' Leads Pack at Tony Awards

"The Light in the Piazza," a tale of young love in Old Europe, took five Tony Awards Sunday, including best score for composer Adam Guettel (search), as Broadway celebrated the best of a busy theater season.

"This is the just the most incredible day of my entire life, period. It always will be a highlight no matter what happens," said Guettel, the grandson of legendary composer Richard Rodgers (search). "Piazza" also won for sets, costumes and lighting in the musical design categories as well as for orchestrations.

"The Pillowman" won two design/play awards: for sets and and lighting. The costume/play award went to "The Rivals."

The choreograpy prize was taken by Jerry Mitchell for the athletic dances he created for the revival of "La Cage aux Folles," which also won the prize for musical revival.

Mike Nichols (search), who oversaw "Monty Python's Spamalot," picked up the prize for directing a musical.

A somewhat flustered Nichols told the audience he had forgotten what he intended to say, "because I had given up long ago." He went on to thank his amazing company and Eric Idle (search), "from whom all blessings flow."

Sara Ramirez, the divalike Lady of the Lake in the show, received the prize for featured actress in a musical.

"Here's the deal, we're all working really really hard and it's just an honor to be part of the theater community," said Ramirez, who thanked her cast producers and director Mike Nichols for giving her the "opportunity of a lifetime. You've changed my life completely."

"I feel like Rocky right now," said Dan Fogler, who got the prize for his portrayal of the nasally challenged but expert wordsmith in "The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee."

"I was going to dance up here," said Fogler, whose talented feet spell out words in "Spelling Bee, and then thanked his parents for their support — and "the DNA."

A stunned Liev Schreiber took the featured actor/play prize for his portrayal of a sleazy real estate salesman in "Glengarry Glen Ross."

"To be part of this ensemble is an amazing experience for me," Schreiber said of the other actors in his show, which includes Tony nominees Alan Alda and Gordon Clapp. "I'm so grateful."

Adriane Lenox, the distraught mother of a child who may have been molested in "Doubt," won the featured actress/play award. The director of "Doubt," Doug Hughes also was honored.

"It must seem like a wild act of Oedipal revenge for the son of two actors to become a director, but I assure you that's not the case," said an emotional Hughes, the son of theater veterans Barnard Hughes and Helen Stenborg.

The musical-book prize was won by newcomer Rachel Sheinkin, who wrote "Spelling Bee."

Billy Crystal walked out to open the show at Radio City Music Hall and launched into a monologue as if he were hosting — as he has several times with great success at the Academy Awards.

"Welcome to the 59th annual Tony awards, or as CBS calls them: 'CSI: Broadway,'" he said, then joked that all of the nominated songs would be sung by Beyonce — "in French."

But then Crystal got a cell phone call from Hugh Jackman, the show's real host, who, of course, wrested the hosting duties from him for the rest of the night. Jackman served as host for the third year in a row.

Crystal later won the award for special theatrical event — a one-man show — and cracked: "I want to thank everybody in behalf of the entire cast."

A special lifetime achievement Tony was given to playwright Edward Albee, author of such classics as "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" and "A Delicate Balance," among other plays.

"If they wait until you do achieve lifetime work, you probably will have died. This is better," said Albee.

He dedicated his honor to the memory of his partner of 35 years, sculptor Jonathan Thomas, who died in May after battling cancer: "He made me a happy playwright. And you have made me a happy playwright tonight."

The eclectic Theatre de la Jeune Lune, run by a collective of artists in Minneapolis, was awarded the regional theater Tony.

On Broadway, the 2004-05 season started slowly, with only one new musical — "Brooklyn" — and two musical revivals — "Pacific Overtures" and "La Cage aux Folles — arriving before Christmas.

Yet things picked up after the first of the year and by the end of May, 39 Tony-eligible productions had opened, the most in more than two decades.

Among shows arriving during the year were 11 new musicals and several starry revivals, such as "On Golden Pond," "Julius Caesar," "The Glass Menagerie," "A Streetcar Named Desire" and "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?"

"Broadway had a great season both business-wise and artistically, particularly over the last 10 to 13 weeks," said Jed Bernstein, head of the League of American Theatres and Producers.

During that period of the spring season, Broadway grossed $222.1 million, with attendance at 3.34 million, up from $201.9 million and 3.13 million, for the same period a year earlier.

The nominations in 25 categories were voted on by 758 members of the theatrical community.

The Tonys, officially known as the Antoinette Perry Awards, were founded in 1947 by the Wing, which runs educational and charitable programs. The organization, which Perry headed during World War II, now oversees the Tonys with the League, an industry trade group.