As a torrential downpour battered the District Monday night, the region’s theater elite gathered inside the Anthem to toast another winning season at the 34th annual Helen Hayes Awards.
Celebrating outstanding achievement in Washington professional theatre, the awards and ceremony are as much a celebration of this vibrant community as they are a chance to honor some of the best theatrical work to grace local stages in the past year.
Cohosts Alyssa Wilmoth Keegan and Michael J. Bobbitt welcomed the rain-soaked attendees to the ceremony with — what else — “Willkommen” from Cabaret. But bienvenue quickly became bienvenidos, as it was the cast and crew of GALA Hispanic Theatre’s production of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s In the Heights who were welcomed to the stage again and again as the night’s big winners.
The Spanish-language production, nominated for 18 awards, took home a total of nine, including Outstanding Production in a Musical, Outstanding Direction and Outstanding Choreography for Luis Salgado, Outstanding Ensemble in a Musical, as well as awards for Outstanding Lead Actress Laura Lebrón and Outstanding Supporting Actor Félix Marchany.
And, as if one production of In the Heights weren’t enough to garner all the musical prizes, there were in fact two productions in contention, as the Helen Hayes Awards divide all the nominated shows into two separate fields — Helen and Hayes — depending on the size of the respective productions.
So, while GALA’s In the Heights hoarded most of the musical wins in the Helen field, it was the Olney and Roundhouse Theatres’ co-production of In the Heights that contended in many of the Hayes categories. However, that show was mostly shut out of the winner’s circle, save for an award for Outstanding Lead Actress Rayanne Gonzales, and a surprise win over Ford’s Theatre’s Ragtime for Outstanding Production in a Musical.
Of course, all the awards drama wasn’t reserved just for the musicals. Shakespeare Theatre Company was well-rewarded for its, well, musical take on Twelfth Night. The production won four awards, as director Ethan McSweeney was recognized for Outstanding Direction in a Play, with the play receiving Outstanding Production in a Play, in the Hayes field.
There were no In the Heights-style sweeps for the straight plays as the awards judges spread the wealth among several worthy contenders. Outstanding Production in a Play in the Helen field went to Theater Alliance’s Still Life with Rocket, while the Charles MacArthur Award for Outstanding Original New Play or Musical went to Mosaic Theater Company’s fantastic Hooded, Or Being Black for Dummies.
As host Bobbitt declared, it was a wonderful night for theatre professionals of color. The presenters and winners represented the remarkable diversity of the D.C. theatre scene. Notably, however, there were few direct mentions at the podium of the many, many LGBTQ artists and professionals in attendance.
One winner, Abby Corrigan, who shared the award for Outstanding Performer in a Visiting Production with her Fun Home co-star Alessandra Baldacchino, did explicitly reference queer artists. Corrigan dedicated her award to “anyone LGBT” creating and producing the stories everyone was there to celebrate. In general, politics and identity weren’t part of the program. Perhaps that’s progress.
For a full list of HHA winners, visit theatrewashington.org.