NEW YORK - "Spamalot" didn't get a lot. "Monty Python's Spamalot," an irreverent romp inspired by the British film "Monty Python and the Holy Grail," led all plays and musicals at the Tony Awards with 14 nominations, but took away only three prizes Sunday. It won the one that mattered, though - best musical.
"Doubt," John Patrick Shanley's drama about the innocence - or guilt - of a popular parish priest, was named best play, while "The Light in the Piazza," a lushly romantic tale set in Italy, had the night's biggest haul with six awards.
Mike Nichols, who won for best musical director for "Spamalot," said after the ceremony that he was nervous when the hit musical lost several early technical awards to "Piazza" before Sara Ramirez took the prize for featured actress.
"I sat there thinking we are in the toilet. This is backlash big-time," Nichols said. "But then it turned out OK."
"Doubt," the season's most honored play, already had picked up the Pulitzer Prize, the New York Drama Critics' Circle Award and several other top play prizes.
"Happy. Joy. Fleeting," Shanley began his acceptance speech, adding: "I want to thank the Sisters of Charity for teaching me how to read and write. I want to thank the Irish Christian Brothers for throwing me out of high school."
"Doubt" also collected two acting Tonys - for star Cherry Jones and for featured performer Adriane Lenox - while Doug Hughes was named best director.
Hughes later told reporters, "It's nice to see us thriving with a play populated by stage actors. ... These are people who understand what this craft is really about."
Billy Crystal won the award for special theatrical event - an autobiographical one-man show titled "700 Sundays" - and cracked: "I want to thank everybody in behalf of the entire cast."
Bill Irwin took the actor/play prize for his portrayal of the browbeaten husband in Edward Albee's "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" and Norbert Leo Butz captured the prize for actor/musical for his role as a French Riviera con man in "Dirty Rotten Scoundrels."
"Piazza" won for its star, Victoria Clark, who plays a Southern matron shepherding her mentally challenged daughter on a European tour. Its other prizes were for score, sets, costumes and lighting in the musical design categories as well as for orchestrations.
One of the year's surprise musical hits, "The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee," took two awards: best book of a musical and best featured actor for Dan Fogler, who plays a nasally challenged and full-figured speller in the show.
The actor thanked his parents for their support - and "the DNA." He said later that he had difficulty finding a tuxedo in time for the ceremony, joking that he wants to start a "slightly chubby nominee fund" for actors who are built like him.
The choreography 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.
The play revival award went to a production of David Mamet's "Glengarry Glen Ross." Producer Jeffrey Richards said after the ceremony that he shared his award with Mamet: "This is his first Tony, too."
Liev Schreiber took the featured actor/play prize for his portrayal of a sleazy real estate salesman in "Glengarry Glen Ross."
A special lifetime achievement Tony was given to Albee, who, besides "Woolf," has written such plays as "A Delicate Balance" and "The Goat," which won the Tony for best play in 2002. 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."
Crystal walked out to open the show at Radio City Music Hall and launched into a monologue as if he were hosting instead of the real host, Hugh Jackman.
"I, too, am head over heels in love with Katie Holmes," Crystal said, poking fun at Tom Cruise's recent appearance on "The Oprah Winfrey Show," in which he professed his love for his girlfriend actress.
The fun didn't end there. Another surprise guest - former Democratic presidential candidate the Rev. Al Sharpton - stunned the crowd by appearing as a speller in a musical number from the cast of "Spelling Bee." And Christina Applegate, star of "Sweet Charity," took a pretend spill when she came out to present an award - a send-up of the actress' real fall during previews that left her with a broken foot and nearly derailed the show.