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“Good evening ladies and gentlemen, I’m Joy Zinoman. ” Oh, but it wasn’t. For the second year in a row, Rick Hammerly crashed the 20th annual Helen Hayes Awards ceremony, this time decked out in full Hedwig spectacle and announcing his arrival as the Studio Theatre’s popular Artistic Director, who had just exited the stage. Hammerly, who gave a rousing acceptance speech for his Lead Actor award last year, presented one of Washington’s coveted accolades for achievement in theatrical excellence at last Monday night’s Kennedy Center event.
The evening, as directed with straightforward sensibility by Signature Theatre’s Eric Schaeffer, was kept under three hours as promised, in a fairly tame ceremony that began with a fiercely competitive category of no less than eight deserving nominees: Outstanding Lead Actor in a Resident Play. Ted van Griethuysen was rewarded for his larger-than-life portrayal of the title character in Studio Theatre’s The Life of Galileo, and Bruce Nelson tied for his work in Rep Stage’s The Dazzle.
Arena Stage garnered the most awards with a grand total of eight, including Outstanding Resident Musical for Crowns, while Round House Theatre took home the Outstanding Resident Play Award for Michael Healey’s masterpiece, The Drawer Boy. Nancy Robinette also received the Outstanding Lead Actress nod for her pleasantly preposterous Mrs. Malaprop in The Shakespeare Theatre’s production of The Rivals.
The most gratifying and sincere acceptance speech followed the Helen Hayes Tribute to playwright Terrence McNally. McNally, whose civil union announcement was a very public affair, recently enjoyed a Potomac cruise with his partner when President Bush’s helicopter flew overhead. He was immediately “tempted to make a political gesture,” but thought better of it when he realized that the President probably couldn’t see the two below. After a brisk evening of predictable honors and a surprise vocal performance from Marin Mazzie, McNally’s genuine gratitude was refreshing. The only big shocker of the night was the discreet appearance of Jeff Goldblum mingling among revelers at the terrace party held afterwards. Oh, to be a fly on the wall…