Invites leading up to Monday’s 30th annual Helen Hayes Awards promised a good time. They didn’t disappoint. Held last night in the cavernous National Building Museum, the fast-paced, open bar event was more a loud and lively cocktail party than a traditional awards ceremony.
Divided into the three acts with intermissions, the awards show featured three sets of hosts backed by three singers (local actors Rachel Zampelli, Sam Ludwig and Ashleigh King) who broke into song when winners’ acceptance speeches surpassed 30 seconds. It was a funny gimmick that fit the evening’s cheeky tone. Audience members were encouraged to tweet, eat, drink, mill around and generally misbehave.
This year’s big winners were the Kennedy Center’s “The Book of Mormon,” Round House Theatre’s “Glengarry Glen Ross” and “Hello, Dolly!,” which was presented by Ford’s Theatre and Signature Theatre and staged by Signature’s gay artistic director Eric Schaeffer.
Woolly Mammoth’s “Stupid F—ing Bird,” (an irreverent adaptation of Chekhov’s The Seagull” by Aaron Posner) won outstanding resident play and outstanding new play or musical. The award for outstanding resident musical was a tie between Olney’s “A Chorus Line” and “Hello, Dolly!” “The Book of Mormon” took honors for best visiting production.
Out actor Bobby Smith won for best supporting actor in resident musical for Signature Theatre’s “Spin.” Other winners included the very deserving out musical director Jon Kalbfleisch for outstanding music direction, resident production, for Signature’s “Gypsy”; the fabulous Rachel York for outstanding lead actress in visiting production for the Kennedy Center’s “Anything Goes”; and Christopher John O’Neill for outstanding lead actor in a visiting production for the Kennedy Center’s “Book of Mormon.”
The prestigious Helen Hayes Tribute was presented to Victor Shargai, theatreWashington founding chairman. In a heartfelt acceptance speech, he thanked local audiences for making the D.C. theater scene so special. Past recipients include Kevin Spacey, Mary Martin and Stephen Sondheim.
The John Aniello Award for Outstanding Emerging Theatre Company (named for Shargai’s late partner, an avid supporter of D.C. theater) went to Pointless Theatre Company, a group dedicated to performing innovative and exuberant puppet theater.
Without a doubt, the evening’s highlight was a hot rendition of Aretha Franklin’s “I Knew You Were Waiting” sung by hosts E. Faye Butler and out actor Will Gartshore. In previous years, the longer seated ceremony at the Warner Theatre featured numerous corny production numbers. They weren’t missed.
When the show ended, a tuxedoed theater fan commented, “It was a lot of fun, but with all the noise and the shorter speeches, I don’t feel that I got to know the winners.”