Filling The Anthem with bonhomie, D.C.’s theater community dressed up and drank up to celebrate last season’s standout shows and performances at Monday’s 35th Annual Helen Hayes Awards.
The evening’s co-hosts Felicia Curry and Rick Hammerly kept the vibe warm and friendly, inviting the audience to think of The Anthem as the community’s Helen Hayes Awards home for the night, and foreseeable future.
The theme of community extended to the awards themselves, as the HHA judges distributed the goods generously among more than thirty different productions, from Signature Theatre’s Matthew Sweet-scored musical Girlfriend, about two gay teens in love, to the Kennedy Center staging of current Broadway hit Ain’t Too Proud.
Several categories resulted in a tie, adding up to even more the merrier for co-winners like Outstanding Lead Actor in a Play recipients Josh Adams, from The Events at Theater Alliance, and Matthew R. Wilson, of 1st Stage’s Swimming with Whales.
While they shared the prize in the awards’ “Helen” division, the Outstanding Lead Actor in the “Hayes” division — which recognizes productions with a cast consisting of a majority of Equity union members — went to Eugene Lee for his turn in August Wilson’s Two Trains Running at Arena Stage.
The race for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Musical, Helen division, finished in another tie. Debora Crabbe, of Keegan Theatre’s hippie-styled As You Like It, shared the award with Maria Rizzo, who starred as a delightfully deranged Roxie Hart in Keegan’s Chicago.
Rizzo was the only performer to take home two awards, also winning for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Musical for Arena’s jubilant Anything Goes. Her co-star in that show, Corbin Bleu — currently wowing audiences in the Broadway revival of Kiss Me Kate — was named Outstanding Lead Actor in a Musical.
Also taking awards for Parker Esse’s truly Outstanding Choreography, and Alejo Vietti’s Costume Design, Anything Goes ultimately led all Hayes contenders with four awards. That tally was matched in the Helen categories by 1st Stage’s Fly By Night, the ‘60s-set musical romance, which won for Outstanding Production in a Musical, Outstanding Ensemble in a Musical, Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Musical to Caroline Wolfson, and for Kathryn Chase Bryer’s Outstanding Direction.
Ford’s Theatre’s The Wiz, the evening’s most nominated production with thirteen nods, ended the night with three awards, as did Spooky Action Theater’s The Lathe of Heaven, which brought creator Natsu Onoda Power twice to the stage to accept trophies for Outstanding Set Design and for Original Play or Musical Adaptation.
Power was one of many awardees who used their time at the podium to celebrate the diversity of D.C.’s theatre community, on a night that saw a significant number of women, people of color, and out LGBTQ artists lauded for their work.
Lifetime Achievement honoree Jennifer L. Nelson likewise trumpeted diversity in her time at the podium — and also hilariously took local theater companies to task for not hiring more black women directors, including Nelson herself.
Nelson closed her speech by encouraging her colleagues in art and industry to reach beyond whatever bubble they might live or work in and become “real citizens of the world.” For everyone these days, that’s easier said than done. But on this inspiring night, the D.C. theater community relished the inclusion, generosity, and camaraderie that make us all better citizens.
For a full list of awards nominees and recipients, visit www.theatrewashington.org.