Helen Mirren was crowned queen of the London stage at the Olivier Awards Sunday, while compelling, canine-titled teen drama "The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time" emerged as best in show with seven trophies.
Mirren, 67, was a popular and expected best actress choice for her regal yet vulnerable Queen Elizabeth II in "The Audience," Peter Morgan's behind-palace-doors drama about the relationship between Britain's queen and its prime ministers.
The actress, who won an Academy Award in 2007 for playing Britain's monarch in "The Queen," quipped that it was 87-year-old Elizabeth who deserved an award, "for the most consistent and committed performance of the 20th century, and probably the 21st century."
Backstage, it turned out she wasn't kidding. Mirren, who has been Olivier-nominated three times before, said that finally winning "doesn't mean that I was the best actor. There were so many incredible performances out there."
"I was making a joke about the queen winning, but I think actually it is a reflection of the kind of respect the queen is held in," she said.
Her "Audience" co-star, Richard McCabe, who won the supporting actor trophy for playing 1960s and 70s Prime Minister Harold Wilson, said Mirren was a joy to work with.
"It's important as an actor to be absolutely fearless, and she is," he said.
While the queen herself hasn't been to see the Stephen Daldry-directed show — rumored to be Broadway-bound — McCabe said "a lot of people in the royal household have been coming in and watching incognito, and they must be reporting back."
The surprise of the awards ceremony at London's Royal Opera House was "Curious Incident," an adaptation of Mark Haddon's best-selling young-adult novel about a teenage math prodigy with Asperger's Syndrome who sets out to find the killer of his neighbor's dog, with destabilizing results.
The show, which premiered at the state-subsidized National Theatre last year before transferring to a commercial West End playhouse, has won praise for its creative use of movement and technology to make the leap from page to stage.
The Simon Stephens-scripted drama was named best new play, and 28-year-old Luke Treadaway was crowned best actor, beating a strong list of contenders including Rupert Everett, Mark Rylance and James McAvoy.
Treadaway said the "Curious" company knew they had created "something really special" with the show about a teenager "who sees the world differently to a lot of people."
"I think people could kind of see themselves in him," Treadaway said.
"This is not even necessary," he said, holding his trophy, a bust of the late actor Laurence Olivier. "I enjoy doing it so much anyway."
The play also won prizes for director Marianne Elliott and supporting actress Nicola Walker, as well as for set, lighting and sound.
Walker said the play had, through some "magic," succeeded in creating an onstage world as seen through the eyes of a teenage hero with autism.
"You start out thinking (it) is completely different to our world, and you end up thinking 'No, there are parts of this world I understand.'"
The Olivier awards honor achievements in London plays, musicals, dance and opera. Winners in most categories are chosen by a panel of stage professionals and theatergoers.
Founded in 1976, the Oliviers have been laying on the glitz in recent years, with glossy ceremonies modeled on Broadway's Tony Awards.
"Downton Abbey" actor Hugh Bonneville and West End star Sheridan Smith — an Olivier winner in 2011 and 2012 — hosted a sparky ceremony that included performances by "Glee" star Matthew Morrison, Tony-winning "Wicked" diva Idina Menzel and 60s songstress Petula Clark.
The best new musical category had a retro feel, with the trophy going to "Top Hat" — a tap-dancing, tail-coated homage to Hollywood's Golden Age based on the 1935 Fred Astaire-Ginger Rogers movie. It also won awards for costume design and choreography.
Blood-soaked musical "Sweeney Todd" took the prize for best musical revival, with its stars Imelda Staunton and Michael Ball named best actress and actor in a musical.
"I'm not sure I deserve this," Ball said. "But I've also got sciatica, and I don't deserve that either."
Royal Ballet principal dancer Marianela Nunez took the prize for outstanding achievement in dance, while the same company's "Aeternum" was named best new dance production.
An immersive staging of the Philip Glass opera "Einstein on the Beach" at London's Barbican Centre was named best new opera production. American tenor Bryan Hymel won the outstanding achievement in opera prize for performances at the Royal Opera House.
Special achievement awards went to choreographer Gillian Lynne — best known for her work on Andrew Lloyd Webber musicals including "Cats" and "The Phantom of the Opera" — and playwright Michael Frayn, whose classic backstage farce "Noises Off" is still going strong 30 years after its debut.
Jill Lawless can be reached at http://Twitter.com/JillLawless