A large showing of local theater folk and their supporters gathered Monday night to hear theatreWashington announce nominees for the 28th annual Helen Hayes Awards. Named for first the lady of the American theater, the prestigious awards are given to reward excellence in professional theater in the greater Washington area. Many gay theater professionals were among those nominated.
Standing shoulder to shoulder in the National Theatre’s chandeliered Helen Hayes Gallery (a native Washingtonian, Hayes saw her first play as a child in the landmark theater), the cheery crowd was welcomed by Victor Shargai, chairman of the board at theatreWashington (the newly named and improved group that sponsors the awards). Shargai, who is gay, first praised the vibrant local theater community and then quickly moved on to name Faction of Fools Theatre Company (Commedia dell’ Arte-focused) as recipient of The John Aniello Award for Outstanding Emerging Theatre Company. The late Aniello was an avid Washington theatergoer as well as Shargai’s longtime partner.
Next, theaterWashington’s hardworking president and CEO Linda Levy revealed the nominees (more than 150 in 26 categories). The lion’s share of the nominations went to the movement-based Synetic Theater’s wordless adaptation of Shakespeare’s “King Lear.” Resident musical productions that fared well included Signature’s “Hairspray,” and Signature Theatre 2ndStage’s “Pop!”(a tuneful tale of the Andy Warhol’s shooting). The most nominated resident plays were Woolly Mammoth’s “A Bright New Boise” by young gay playwright Sam Hunter, Studio’s “The Habit of Art” and Arena Stage’s “Ruined.” And the most nominated non-resident productions went to the Kennedy Center’s socially conscious dance fest “Billy Elliot” and the highly deserving “Uncle Vanya” featuring movie star Cate Blanchett.
Gay nominees included directors Serge Seiden and Eric Schaeffer for Adventure Theatre’s charming “Charlotte’s Web” and Signature’s fun “Hairspray,” respectively. Gay actors Philip Fletcher and Chris Dinolfo received nods for their supporting roles in Synetic’s “King Lear.” Outstanding lead actor nominations went to Michael Russotto (“A Bright New Boise”) and Tom Story who was nominated for his terrific take on Warhol in “Pop!” Talented gay musical directors Jon Kalbfleisch and Jay Crowder were nominated for “Hairspray” and Ford’s “Liberty Smith,” respectively. Michael J. Bobbitt received a choreography nomination for “Mirandy and Brother Wind” at Adventure Theatre where his is also artistic director.
Winners will be announced at the Helen Hayes Ceremony at the Warner Theatre on April 23.
For a complete list of nominees go to theatreWashington.org