Mel Brooks' irreverent sense of humor became decidedly acceptable on Broadway as his first musical, The Producers, won a record 12 Tony Awards, including best musical and best actor for Nathan Lane.
"[It] Feels pretty darn good," Brooks told reporters after his landmark victory.
Earlier, he tried to be a bit less bold.
"I'm going to have to do the hardest thing I've done in my life — act humble," he said while accepting his first award of the night.
Only plays nominated in categories without The Producers had a chance at a multiple win. Proof was a triple winner, including best play, and best actress for Mary-Louise Parker.
But the night clearly belonged to Brooks.
The Producers, in which Lane and Matthew Broderick star as a pair of Broadway producers scheming to bilk investors by creating a flop about Hitler, is now Tony's all-time champ. It picked up all the technical awards for musicals, and also won best director, score and choreography.
Until Sunday night, Hello Dolly's 10 awards in 1964 were tops.
Actor Gary Breach, who plays the singing Hitler in the production, summed up the sentiment of the evening while accepting his nod for featured actor.
"Heil Mel! From whom all blessings flow," he said, raising his arm in a mock-Hitler salute.
Teamwork, Producers Style
There was plenty of competition among Brooks' cast as Lane beat out Broderick for the actor award. In a touching moment, Lane brought his co-star to the stage to share the moment.
"I can only accept this on behalf of the two of us and not because I worship and adore Matthew, but because we are a team," Lane said during the live event at Radio City Music Hall.
The pair offered an extra dose of their winning rapport as hosts of the event. In the opening sequence, Broderick got laughs while demonstrating the type of humor that is making their show a sellout.
"This is a megahit, this is a juggernaut. I will never be more powerful! I'm the king of the world," he joked. "We are The Sopranos of musical comedy!"
The success of the smash musical has helped the rest of the Great White Way. The New York theater district is finishing up its most profitable season ever, taking in $665 million. Brooks apologized for the unprecedented competition provided by his play.
"Another year you guys would have won, I assure you," he said. "This is a phenomenon, please forgive us."
The Full Monty had 10 nominations, but was shut out. But the musical did charm the audience with a showstopping excerpt, in which the working-class male strippers did exactly what they say they would, stripping down first to their red G-strings.
Those were quickly cast aside.
The evening also brought a piece of Hollywood. Celebrity presenters included Gwyneth Paltrow, Broderick's wife Sarah Jessica Parker, Eric McCormack, and Edie Falco of The Sopranos, who joked about the Sunday night event.
"Frankly it's a relief to be on a Sunday evening telecast without a plate of ziti," she said.
Brooks Keeps Them Laughing
Brooks' celebratory evening spawned from the film he wrote more than 30 years ago on the suggestion of his wife, Anne Bancroft. She beamed proudly from the audience as her husband accepted his honors, including best musical — which became the play's 12th award of the night.
Picking up the final honor, Brooks rifled through a list of thank-yous, including The Producers' own producers, who joined him on stage. Throughout his acceptance speeches, the 74-year-old showed the kind of wit that has long made him a star, thanking even the most unlikely member of his production.
"I want to thank Hitler for being such a funny guy on stage," he said.
Brooks' play so dominated that for the first hour of the ceremony, Proof's Daniel Sullivan was the only non-Producer to claim a prize at the podium, when he took in the best directing award.
"There must be some mistake," Sullivan joked. "I had nothing to do with The Producers."
The historic boon for The Producers will likely make tickets even more scarce. Even an inside connection to the play's stars may not be enough.
Actress Natasha Richardson said backstage that even she was out of luck.
"I've called Sarah Jessica [Parker] and Matthew [Broderick's] assistant," she said. "They haven't called back yet."