Constellation Theatre Company’s Avenue Q, a sold-out phenomenon over the summer, is now an award-nominated phenomenon, too. The gay-friendly puppet musical snagged 14 nods, more than any other show in the 2016 Helen Hayes Awards slate, announced Monday, Feb. 1, a week late due to winter storm Jonas.
Avenue Q dominated in the “Helen” categories in this year’s two-tiered slate of nominees, leaving it largely free of the Washington theater scene’s heaviest hitters. As with last year, there are double the number of nominees. If a production has fewer members of the Actor’s Equity union, it falls on the “Helen” side; if it contains a majority members of Actor’s Equity, it is classified under “Hayes.” The system was designed to create a more equitable playing field.
This year, the Hayes side is dominated by the Shakespeare Theatre Company, with 26 nominations, followed by Arena Stage with 24, Signature with 18, and Olney with 12. Most impressive is that, just a few years after getting into the musical business, the Shakespeare racked up half of its nominations for two musicals, both directed by Alan Paul. Man of La Mancha earned seven nods, including one for outstanding director, while Kiss Me, Kate earned six nominations. Signature’s popular and critically praised West Side Story earned 10 nominations.
Arena’s new musical Dear Evan Hansen by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul scooped up an impressive nine nominations, including Outstanding Original New Play or Musical, Outstanding Ensemble and Outstanding Director — yet not, oddly, for Ben Platt’s performance as lead actor.
La Mancha/Kate director Alan Paul will also compete in the Helen category for his work on Studio’s Silence of the Lambs-parody, Silence! The Musical. He’ll run against Avenue Q‘s Allison Arkell Stockman, as well as Matt Conner and Stephen Gregory Smith, the composing team (and real-life gay couple) who helmed the world premiere of their musical The Turn of the Screw at Creative Cauldron. Screw snagged three Helen nods, including Outstanding Ensemble and Outstanding Supporting Actor. Also competing as Outstanding Director in the Helen field is Jose Luis Arellano Garcia for his work on GALA Hispanic Theatre’s Yerma. This production of gay Spanish playwright Federico Garcia Lorca’s play racked up nine nominations, adding to GALA’s 14-nod haul in the Helen categories.
Perennial lead actor and actress nominees — and multi-winners — Bobby Smith and Holly Twyford, both gay, are on the Hayes boards again this year, Smith for his work in Signature’s musical Simply Sondheim and Twyford for Olney’s Bad Dog. The most-nominated show from last fall’s Women’s Voices Theater Festival, Jennifer Hoppe-House’s Bad Dog earned a total of five nominations, including Outstanding Play, Outstanding Director (Jeremy B. Cohen), Outstanding Ensemble and Outstanding Supporting Actress (Naomi Jacobson). Douglas Sills earned a nomination for Outstanding Actor in a Musical for Kiss Me, Kate, but sadly, his co-star Christine Sherrill, stunning as the show’s namesake, was overlooked. Robyn Hurder, who played Lois Lane, earned a well-earned nod for Outstanding Supporting Actress.
Liam Forde from Studio Theatre’s Jumpers for Goalposts and Craig Wallace from Ford’s The Guard are among those competing as Outstanding Supporting Actor, in both cases for playing gay characters. Also competing in the category is Michael Willis, the only nod for Theater J’s great gay-themed play Sons of the Prophet.
Among other notable nominees: Rick Hammerly for his work in Adventure Theatre MTC’s “Helen” production of Oliver! (Arena’s production of Oliver! was completely shut out, sadly.) Hammerly is up for Outstanding Lead Actor in a competition with his castmate Franco Cabanas and four others, while Mitchell Hebert (Round House’s Uncle Vanya) and Michael Russotto (Rep Stage’s The Whale) are in the running for Outstanding Lead Actor on the Hayes side. Tom Story is up for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Musical for Studio Theatre’s Helen production Silence! The Musical. Transgender choreographer Dane Figueroa Edidi will compete for a Helen with her work with Theater Alliance’s Dontrell, Who Kissed The Sea — one of five nods for this show and 12 overall for Theater Alliance. And costume designer Collin Ranney (aka drag queen Birdie LaCage) garnered a Hayes nod for his work with Flowers Stink, a Theatre for Young Audiences production from the nine-times-nominated Kennedy Center.
This year’s John Aniello Award for Outstanding Emerging Theatre Company will be a competitive one, rather than announced in advance — a signal of D.C.’s ever-growing and robust theater scene. Arts on the Horizon, Pallas Theatre Collective and the Welders, a playwriting collective, were all nominated for the recognition.
The 2016 Helen Hayes Awards will be held on Monday, May 23, at a venue to be announced. Visit theatrewashington.org for the full list of nominees and more details.