There may still be some vestigial confusion resulting from the practice of bestowing Helen Hayes Awards on the basis of the ratio of Actors’ Equity contracts involved in a particular production, a modification that has now been in place for several years. (The Helen category is for mostly non-Equity shows and the Hayes category for mostly Equity shows.)
But based on the 34th annual Helen Hayes Awards presentation, held Monday, May 14, at the Anthem, a new live-music venue at the Wharf, one overarching thing is clear: under the new system, the excellence of the Washington theater community is more fully on display across a larger, more multifaceted spectrum.
Forty-one judges evaluated 2,633 elements in a variety of categories and genres, including 56 musicals, 154 plays and 18 young-audience productions, with 42 world premieres among them.
Several other things became clear, chief among them that Lin-Manuel Miranda was the man this year, even though the national touring production of Miranda’s “Hamilton” doesn’t open at the Kennedy Center until June 12.
Before the Tony Award-winning smash hit “Hamilton,” there was Miranda’s “In the Heights,” an electric, high-energy musical about life in a largely Dominican American neighborhood — Washington Heights — in upper Manhattan. At the Helen Hayes Awards, two different productions of “In the Heights” were recognized.
The Olney Theatre-Round House Theatre coproduction (the two companies collaborated last year on a production of “Angels in America”) won two awards in the Hayes category, including outstanding musical, while a Spanish-language version of “In the Heights” won nine Helen awards for GALA Hispanic Theatre, including outstanding director for Luis Salgado. The nine awards, including a best actress in a musical award for Laura Lebron, gave GALA the most such honors of the evening.
On the Hayes side, the Shakespeare Theatre Company’s production of “Twelfth Night” was honored as best production, with Ethan McSweeny winning a best director award. The production won four Hayes Awards.
Another highlight of this year’s event, hosted by Michael Bobbitt, artistic director of Adventure Theatre MTC, and actress Alyssa Wilmoth Keegan, also continued a Helen Hayes trend of locally-raised-to-prominence actors, bestowing the Helen Hayes Tribute on the astonishingly gifted Nancy Robinette. In the past, the award, a sort of lifetime achievement award, had often gone to such Broadway and stage stalwarts as Julie Harris and Derek Jacoby.
Now, however, the award generally goes to home-grown luminaries, a group of which Robinette is a star member, as is Ted van Griethuysen, who was honored with the tribute last year. This year, Van Griethuysen received the Robert Prosky Award for outstanding lead actor in a play, Studio Theatre’s “The Father,” in the Hayes section. Robinette, memorable in a supporting role in “The Little Foxes” at the Shakespeare Theatre and in “Driving Miss Daisy” at Ford’s, has five Helen Hayes Awards and 18 nominations to her credit.