Frankly, I was surprised last night as the 2011 Helen Hayes Awards nominations were read. While I was surprised be some of the choices, on the whole, this year’s group of Helen Hayes judges have done the best job of any I have seen in years.
I was expecting Arena Stage’s productions of Oklahoma!, Sophisticated Ladies, and The Light in the Piazza to clean up – with at least 10 nominations each, and although they did pretty well, combined they received 21 nominations, leaving room for other companies.
I was not prepared for the few nominations that Signature Theatre’s Chess and Sunset Boulevard received. Both shows packed them in and critics raved, but neither received nominations for Outstanding Resident Musical. Chess only received nods for Jill Paice’s performance as Florence, for Eric Schaeffer’s direction, and for Jeremy Kushnier’s performance as Freddie Trumper.
And Ed Dixon as Max and Musical Director Jon Kalbfleisch received the only nominations for Sunset Boulevard. There was no nomination for Florence Lacy as Norma Desmond, who received raves from some local critics. And how strange that Signature’s production of Sweeney Todd is an Outstanding Resident Musical nominee although it received no other nominations. The same thing happened with the nomination of Ford’s Theatre’s Little Shop of Horrors.
I was ecstatic that Signature Theatre did receive 5 nominations for Ricky Ian Gordon’s emotionally charged musical Sycamore Trees: for Marc Kudisch’s emotional performance as the anger-filled patriarch, for Outstanding Musical Direction, for Ricky Ian Gordon (music and lyrics) and Nina Mankin (book) both nominated for The Charles MacArthur Award, and for Outstanding Ensemble, Resident Musical. I am a big fan of Ricky Ian Gordon’s work, and you have to admit that it’s courageous and at the same time insane to put your family’s hardships on the stage for the whole world to see. And his score for Sycamore Trees was so beautiful. Marc Kudisch also received a nomination for his haughty performance in The Golden Age at The Kennedy Center.
But it was Hairspray at Toby’s Dinner Theatre of Columbia – the musical that DC Theatre Scene readers voted their Favorite Musical in our 2010 Audience Choice Awards – that brought many cheers at last night’s announcements when it received 5 nominations, including Outstanding Director, Resident Musical for Toby Orenstein’s energy-filled direction, Outstanding Supporting Actress nods to MaryLee Adams for her hysterical gum-snapping dizzy Penny Pingleton and Jesaira Glover, who blew the roof off with her stirring rendition of “I Know Where I’ve Been” and a nod to the all-dancing, all-singing, all-schvitzing ensemble.
I was so happy that this year Adventure Theatre received the recognition it so richly deserves – and I flipped with joy when its production of If You Give a Pig a Pancake received two nods for Outstanding Ensemble, Resident Musical and Outstanding Production, Theatre for Young Audiences, and when The Red Balloon received a nomination for Outstanding Production, Theatre for Young Audiences.
And how about Hollis Resnik receiving nods for her performances as Margaret Johnson in Arena Stage’s The Light in the Piazza and for her scene stealing work as the Old Lady in Candide at Shakespeare Theatre Company? Her rendition of “I Am Easily Assimilated” was one of the highlights of the year in musical theatre for me. Hollis has many Jefferson Awards for her fine work in Chicago theatres, and her performances in these two productions showed you why she is one of the finest actresses and singers in the business.
There were some head-turners last night too. June Schreiner, who received kudos from audience members, the media and critics from DC to NYC – failed to receive a nomination in the Outstanding Supporting Actress Resident Musical for her role as Ado Annie in Oklahoma!, but did receive a nod for Outstanding Ensemble, Resident Musical with her fellow cast members.
And now for some ‘You gotta be kidding” moments: Cody Williams (Will Parker), E. Faye Butler (Aunt Eller), Bobby Smith (Rooster), and Carrie A. Johnson (Grace) – who were clearly in supporting roles in Oklahoma! and Olney Theatre’s rollicking production of Annie – were nominated in the Lead Actor and Lead Actress, Resident Musical categories. I mean Bobby didn’t even make an entrance until the end of the First Act when he came in to sing in the trio of “Easy Street”, and then reappeared briefly in Act Two to claim Annie as his own.
Jenna Sokolowski, who played Bobby’s cohort in crime –Lily St. Regis – was correctly nominated in the Supporting Actress, Resident Musical category. I am so glad that Cody, Bobby and Carrie were nominated, but this is a little ‘off-the-wall’.
OK – enough with the nitpicking.
I am really thrilled that this year’s nominations included so many mid-sized and small theatres. And I am happy that David Pittsinger received a nomination for his powerful singing and acting for playing Emile de Becque in South Pacific. Rarely have local theatre goers heard such beautiful renditions of “This Nearly Was Mine” and “Some Enchanted Evening”, sung beautifully and powerfully and lovingly with co-star Carmen Cusack, who also was nominated for her performance as Nellie Forbush. And a special congrats to The Kennedy Center for bringing in such excellent national tours of musicals, including South Pacific, Hair, which received 5 performance nominations, and Mary Poppins which received 4 nominations, for Outstanding Non-Resident Production and for its performers Gavin Lee (Bert), Caroline Sheen (Mary Poppins) and for Ellen Harvey, whose hysterical performance as the evil Nanny from hell – Miss Andrews – stole the show.
And to Shakespeare Theatre Company who took a risk and brought in Avenue Q – congrats on your nominations for Outstanding Non-Resident Production, and for Jacqueline Grabois and Brent Michael DiRoma’s performances in the show. Speaking of another risk that really paid off, I loved Candide, the co-production between Shakespeare Theatre Company and Chicago’s Goodman Theatre, which received 12 nominations.
When Theater J’s name was announced 6 times last night, I was so happy for them because they had an exceptional season this year. I adored their moving production of New Jerusalem: The Interrogation of Baruch De Spinoza and particularly the performances of Alexander Strain and Michael Toleydo.
And to Kasi Campbell – congrats on your nomination for directing Travels With My Aunt at Rep Stage. Kasi is another Columbia, MD gem, and Rep Stage continues to produce fine work. I heard such great things about Kasi’s direction of The Goat, or Who is Sylvia? at Rep Stage, so was surprised it didn’t end up at the top of the judges’ list. Believe me, it’s well worth your time to take a drive to Columbia to see this company’s work.
Being a fan of the Tsikurishvilis and Synetic Theatre, it was no surprise when they won another 14 nominations this year for their productions of Othello, The Master and Margarita, and the splashingly fun King Arthur. And hearty congrats to Alex Mills and Philip Fletcher for their nods for Outstanding Lead Actor, Resident Play.
I am so glad that Lauren ‘Coco’ Cohn was recognized for her hysterical performances as Ursula Gillow and the Maid to the Vanderlyn household in Glimpses of the Moon at MetroStage. She came in at the last minute, switched roles with the great Natascia Diaz and together they saved the show. Here’s a reminder of what they went through to make it to Opening Night.
Congrats to Joshua Morgan, Brian Sutow, Anne Kohn from No Rules Theatre and Rick Hammerly and members of the Factory 449 collective for co-receiving the John Aniello Award for Outstanding Emerging Theatre Company. I respect their work and send them a hearty Mazel Tov on receiving this prestigious honor.
Finally, congrats to Woolly Mammoth and Folger Theatre for their many nods, and to Bill Largess for his nomination in The Foreigner at Bay Theatre Company in Annapolis. When Bill’s name was announced, he received the loudest applause of the evening.
What a fantastic year we had in 2010! Now, all you nominees – take a well-deserved bow! We’ll be writing a pre-Awards feature about you. Look for our invitation, coming soon.
The 2011 Helen Hayes Awards will be presented April 25, 2011 at the Warner Theatre, Washington, DC.