On Monday the Washington-area theater scene celebrated its best and brightest with the annual Helen Hayes Awards. Like last year, the ceremony was held at the U Street Corridor’s historic Lincoln Theatre, and once again the awards were given in parallel “Helen” or “Hayes” cohorts, depending on the number of Equity members involved in each production.
Hosts E. Faye Butler and Lawrence Redmond, both Helen Hayes Award-winning actors, moved the evening along with a fun blend of class and sass, making numerous costume changes along the way. The entertaining pair was assisted in doling out a total of 47 awards by rotating pairs of engaging presenters including local actors Emily Townley, Tracey Lynn Olivera, Evan Casey, Thomas Keegan, Jefferson Russell and Roz White, and an onstage orchestra led by Luke S. Frazier who gently broke into music when acceptance speeches dragged.
It was a big night for GALA Hispanic Theatre’s beautifully rendered “Yerma.” The Helen production picked up awards for its out director José Luis Arellano Garcí and members of its design team and cast. The production was also rightly named outstanding ensemble. Penned by the great gay Spanish dramatist Federico García Lorca, “Yerma” is the story of a woman’s desperate desire for a child.
Constellation Theatre Company received seven awards for its production of “Avenue Q,” including outstanding musical (Helen) and outstanding director of a musical, awarded to the company’s artistic director Allison Stockman.
Broadway director Michael Greif won for direction of a musical (Hayes) for Arena Stage’s “Dear Evan Hansen.” The production also took outstanding musical. Other winners included the very deserving out musical director Jon Kalbfleisch for outstanding music direction (Hayes) for Signature Theatre’s “West Side Story.” The fabulous Barrett Wilbert Weed won for her take on Sally Bowles in Signature’s “Cabaret” (Hayes). Best ensemble also went to “Cabaret.”
Dawn Ursula won for her star turn “Queens Girl in the World,” a Hayes production at Theatre J.
Mark Jaster picked up the Robert Prosky Award for outstanding lead actor in a Play (Helen) for Happenstance Theater’s “Impossible! A Happenstance Circus.” Jon Hudson Odom won the James McArthur Award for outstanding supporting actor in a play (also Helen) for his dynamic work in Forum Theatre’s “Passion Play.”
The John Aniello Award for Outstanding Emerging Theatre Company (named for the late John Laurentzen Aniello Jr., an openly gay D.C. theater supporter) was given to the Welders, a playwrights’ collective that offers a new model for developing and producing world premiere works for the stage.
Martyna Majok poignantly dedicated her award (the prestigious Charles MacArthur Award for outstanding original play or musical for her new play “Ironbound” that premiered at Round House Theatre) to her mother who cleans homes for a living.
Presented by theatreWashington, the Helen Hayes Awards honors excellence in professional theatre throughout the Washington region. The show’s dizzyingly vast list of nominees was drawn from the 202 eligible productions presented in 2015. Included in those productions were plays and musicals from the inaugural Women’s Voices Theater Festival.
The night’s biggest winner was Shakespeare Theatre Company with a total of 13 awards. The lion’s share went to director/adapter Yaël Farber’s “Salomé.” Playwright David Ives was singled out for STC’s “The Metromaniacs.” The Company’s production of “Kiss Me, Kate” (Hayes) also picked up several awards.
And while STC did exceedingly well, most of its winning recipients weren’t on hand to take home their awards. Out artistic director Michael Kahn collected the bounty.
Kahn also accepted the important outstanding play Hayes production award for “Salomé,” noting that the production was STC’s contribution to the Women’s Voices Theater Festival.
As if taking a cue from Kahn’s thoughtful words, E. Faye Butler wrapped things up with a soulful rendition of Carole King’s “(You Make Me Feel Like a) Natural Woman.”
After the show, the energetic crowd decamped for a lively dance party at the 9:30 Club around the corner. A complete list of award recipients can be found at theatreWashington.org.