This year’s Helen Hayes Awards didn’t seek to dazzle. It was enough to attempt the daunting — if not altogether impossible—task of presenting awards for both Helens and Hayeses in a ceremony that didn’t last as long as Forum’s Passion Play. Where last year’s 30th Anniversary bash was, by all counts, a glamorous spectacle – though at the expense, sometimes, of the audience’s ability to hear what was happening onstage – this one did the opposite, stripping back the glitz and glamour and offering just content.
The crowd at the historic Lincoln Theatre was no less enthusiastic as the awards were named on Monday night. Indeed, because the show was less production and more perfunctory, theatre artists and supporters felt even more at liberty than usual to cheer and chatter throughout. (Oh, and they could bring drinks to their seats. That probably had something to do with it as well.)
As was the case at last year’s ceremony, recipients were told to hustle to the stage, and given 30 seconds to speak before being musicked off by the live band (this year, jazz music in celebration of the Lincoln’s history).
The ceremony did prove that with the musical numbers, scripted banter, video performances, and other miscellaneous bells and whistles peeled away, it’s possible to get through nearly double the Awards in just over an hour. Even if the evening did put the “run” in “run time” and have people sprinting down the aisles.
Of the Hayes recipients – the Awards for productions with a majority of Equity performers – the productions honored the most came from Olney Theatre Center, Signature Theatre, and the Kennedy Center.
Leading the productions in the non-musical categories, Olney’s world premiere of Colossal collected four Helen Hayes Awards. Choreographers Ben Cunis and Christopher D’Amboise, sound designer Christopher Baine, and director Will Davis all received awards in their respective categories. The play overall was given the Charles MacArthur Award for Outstanding New Play or Musical.
Sunday in the Park with George snagged four awards as well, with Brynn O’Malley (Outstanding Lead Actress in a Musical), Jon Kalbfleisch (Outstanding Musical Direction), and director Matthew Gardiner honored. The production also tied with The Kennedy Center’s Side Show in the Outstanding Musical category.
The Kennedy Center’s Side Show was another multiple recipient, taking awards in three categories: Outstanding Ensemble in a Musical, Outstanding Musical (a tie with Signature’s Sunday in the Park with George), and Outstanding Costume Design, which Paul Tazewell received for the show.
With two additional awards for other productions (Susan Stroman who received the Outstanding Choreography award for Little Dancer, and the creative team who received the Outstanding Play or Musical Adaptation award for The Gift of Nothing), the Kennedy Center and Olney (who also collected an award for Sam Ludwig’s performance in How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying) both ended the evening with more awards than other companies in the running for Hayes-division accolades.
Signature wasn’t far behind with its four awards. Folger, Imagination Stage, Theater J, and the Shakespeare Theatre Company each took home two. And Arena Stage, Ford’s Theatre, Round House, Studio, and Woolly Mammoth were each awarded once in the Hayes division. No single organization with Hayes-eligible shows hauled all the trophies home, but none were snubbed, either.
On the individual front, it was a triumphant night for Erin Weaver, who hopped up on stage three times—once for her performance in Arena’s Mother Courage and Her Children (Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Play), once for her performance in Round House Theatre’s Ordinary Days (Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Musical), and once with husband Aaron Posner, as well as Patrick McDonnell and Andy Mitton, for her work on The Gift of Nothing (Outstanding Play or Musical Adaptation).
Ben Cunis was one of two recipients to receive awards in both the Helen and Hayes division of the same category. (His other win was for the choreography of Twelfth Night at Synetic Theater, which he shared with Irina Tsikurishvili.) Sound designer Christopher Baine also accepted awards in both the Helen and Hayes divisions (for Theater Alliance’s The Wonderful World of Dissocia, shared with Matthew M. Nielson, and as mentioned earlier, for Colossal).
And Kimberly Gilbert, who took the Outstanding Lead Actress in a Play for her role in Woolly Mammoth’s Marie Antoinette, can now say she outmastered Kathleen Turner in that category.
It’s often the case that some honored artists aren’t able to accept their awards in person, and this year proved no exception. Recipients Susan Stroman (Outstanding Choreography of a Musical), Jon Kalbfleisch (Outstanding Musical Direction), Paul Tazewell (Outstanding Costume Design), Eric J. Van Wyk (Outstanding Set Design), and Andrew Hinderaker (The Charles McArthur Award for Original New Play or Musical) were absent from the night’s festivities.
Also absent was the Helen Hayes Tribute—one of three non-adjudicated, “special” awards, typically honoring a theatre artist for distinguished contributions to the stage. Past recipients have included Kevin Spacey, Tommy Tune, Edward Albee, and DC’s own Victor Shargai. No word on why this award has gone or whether it will be presented at a different point this year.
The awards ceremony concluded with a twist as Studio Theatre’s otherwise uncelebrated Cock walked away with the much-coveted Outstanding Play award. While accepting the award, director David Muse seized on the opportunity to beat his well-wishers to the joke: “I’m sure tonight I’ll be congratulated,” he said, “that my Cock won a Helen Hayes Award.”