All About Helen Hayes Awards Nominations

If you want to know a little bit about what’s going on in the vibrant Washington area theatre scene, as well as a little bit about its history, check out the Helen Hayes Awards nominations. They’ve always provided clues about what’s hot and what’s not, trends and directions.

The awards—both a celebration of the area’s ever-growing theatre community and a composite of its members—always provide an ebb and flow about the fortunes of different theaters and different types of theatre.

From the beginning, in the resident theatre arena, the long established Arena Stage has been a strong presence, almost routinely receiving loads of nominations and winning many of them, because Arena for decades was the mother ship of regional theatre companies under founder Zelda Fichandler. But judges, perversely, tended to reward grudgingly newer companies, except for the Shakespeare Theatre Company under Michael Kahn.

It took time for Woolly Mammoth to establish itself as a force, for the Studio Theatre under Joy Zinoman to be recognized consistently (its production of Tom Stoppard’s “Indian Ink” was a major breakthrough). Signature Theatre under Eric Schaeffer, on the other hand splashed, onto the scene with its production of “Sweeney Todd” and established itself as the leading interpreter of Sondheim musicals in the area. Likewise, critics and Helen Hayes judges alike immediately took to the Russian pantomime tones of Synetic Theatre and its movement-choreography oriented interpretation of classic works of literature and theater, forcing writers to spell Tsikurishvili (the last name of the star Synetic couple) over and over again.

Early on, nobody paid much attention to family or children’s theater, not to mention the more assumed-to-be sedate workings of suburban theater and dinner theater. This year Adventure Theater, under the energetic Michael Bobbitt, produced several nominations, as did Toby’s Dinner Theater under Toby Orenstein, a second time around for her.

And Folger, once the Kahn-led troupe that embedded itself at Lansburgh and later Harman Hall, never fared as well as it did this year. This year, all three of its produced plays have been nominated for Outstanding Resident Play: “Henry VIII,” “Hamlet” and “Orestes: A Tragic Romp.”

The Shakespeare Theatre did well for itself with 22 nominations, but none were in the outstanding resident play category, where it’s rotating majestic double bill of “Richard II” and “Henry V” were sadly missing. Nor was Michael Hayden, who wore both crowns, nominated for his acting tour de force here in playing both kingly roles, including the best Henry this writer has ever seen outside of perhaps Kenneth Branagh’s movie version.

Omissions and inclusions always cause a little controversy, even in this self-celebratory community, and the one that seemed to be almost uniformly decried was the absence of teenaged whiz June Schreiner for her dazzling, high-energy turn as Ado Annie in “Oklahoma,” a show that’s up for Outstanding Resident Musical and helped Arena snare 23 nominations. Schreiner got deservedly ecstatic notices for her work but failed to convince the Hayes judges.

“Oklahoma” gave a rousing opening to Molly Smith and Arena’s new multi-million dollar, elegant space out in Southwest, and the show, which looked as fresh as could be, will be clashing with the Shakespeare Theatre’s co-production (with the Goodman Theatre in Chicago), of Leonard Bernstein’s and Mary Zimmerman’s “Candide.”

“Candide” is an example of what you might call out of town resident shows—that is, there’s enough of a local presence in the cast or production to put the dazzling show into the resident category. If there was any justice, this would produce a tie, because I can’t pick between the two. One of my peers in the theatre world, however, loves the Toby Dinner Theater production of “Hairspray” to death.

Arena actually had three musicals in the outstanding resident musical category—two others, produced before the big move, were the smash hit production of Duke Ellington’s “Sophisticated Ladies” in Duke’s old neighborhood at the Lincoln Theatre, and “The Light in the Piazza," with Molly Smith getting two outstanding director noms for “Piazza” and “Oklahoma.”

Some other highlights: Adventure Theater getting an ensemble acting nod in the resident musical category for its production of “”If You Give a Pig a Pancake,” which featured Hollywood as a tap-dancing pig.

The outstanding lead actor in a resident play produced a record ten actors vying for the award.

Theater J scored heavily with its production of “New Jerusalem: The Interrogation of Baruch de Spinoza.”

Per usual, the Kennedy Center dominated non-resident categories with 23 nominations of all sorts for such shows as “Thurgood,” “South Pacific” and “Golden Age,” part of a wonderful Terence O’Neill mini-festival.

Ted Van Griethuysen was nominated yet again, in kingly fashion, for “All’s Well That Ends Well.”

The Helen Hayes Awards will be announced April 25 at the annual ceremonies at the Warner Theater.

For a complete list of nominations and all things Helen Hayes Awards, click here!

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Sat, 26 Jul 2014 11:12:12 -0400

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