Helen Hayes Awards Draws Large Crowds; Night’s Big Winner: GALA Hispanic Theatre

So many awards, so little time. An awards show that deserves its own award?

Celebrating what’s best in Washington’s theater arts over the past year, more than 1,600 enthusiastic theater-makers and supporters attended this year’s Helen Hayes Awards at The Anthem on the Wharf Monday evening, May 22. Named for actress Helen Hayes – a Washington native and legendary First Lady of the American Theatre – the Helen Hayes Awards has honored excellence in professional theater throughout the Washington region for more than three decades. This year’s awards recognized work from 131 eligible D.C. area productions presented in the 2022 calendar year with awards given in 41 categories, including 39 musicals, 97 plays and 38 world premieres.

“On Your Feet!” from GALA Hispanic Theatre – a musical based on the life of Gloria Estafan – was the night’s big winner garnering 9 awards in the over-four-hour awards banquet put on by Theatre Washington. GALA’s accomplishment was feted by attendees with particular poignancy and appreciation following news earlier in the day of the death of Hugo Medrano, co-founder in 1976 of the innovative 14th Street NW playhouse specializing in Spanish and Latin American productions.

We spoke with actor and director Holly Twyford – five-time Helen Hayes awardee with a record 24 nominations over her Washington theater career – about her experience of the evening as one of the several hosts of the star-studded event. 

Twyford was particularly moved by the remembrance and recognition for Medrano’s groundbreaking work at GALA Hispanic and about what his loss means for the D.C. theater community. “You know, the morning of the [awards], Hugo Medrano died and he was such a huge light in the community, not just in terms of leadership but as a major contributing member of the theater community. He was a force. And GALA won more awards than any other theater. So there was something incredibly fitting about that – the fact that the community as a whole was there to celebrate his life and his work along with the work of everybody else together.”

In addition to Twyford’s hosting, esteemed Washington theater artists Naomi Jacobson, Erika Rose and Christopher Michael Richardson did the honors in an evening showcasing the vibrant and diverse community of professional theater artists in the Washington region. They were joined by a performance ensemble of Quadry Brown, Carolyn Burke, Drake Leach and Kanysha Williams and special guest star Michael Urie, with additional performances by Frenchie Davis and Solomon Parker III. 

Twyford credits Theatre Washington’s “brilliant and tireless” CEO and president Amy Austin for helping organize a remarkably successful show this year. “One of the things she does which is so amazing and why she’s so great,” Twyford said, “is she listens to people and she has an incredible passion for this theater community.” With input from artists, actors, directors and writers about formulas that either work or don’t work for such an expansive awards show, the group decided to break the evening up into separate “acts” with intermissions, dinner, milling about, comedy skits, awards and recognitions. “You know, it can’t last for seven hours! [laughs],” Twyford joked. 

“I talked to several people who said, unsolicited, this was the best Helen Hayes [Awards] they’ve ever been to – which was really great,” Twyford said. “And a huge part of that was how it was pieced together…. Also, the Anthem space is a perfect venue for that. Because people were able to mill around. And, we’re talking about theater people here and they need their schmooze.”

Twyford not only credits the evening’s other “wonderful hosts” and entertainers but the award show’s main writer Will Gartshore. “He’s an incredibly talented actor and singer. He wrote the script and had a real vision for how the evening should go.” 

Gartshore wrote a bit for guest star Michael Urie – you may know him as Shakespeare Theatre’s most recent Hamlet or the co-star with Harrison Ford on the new hit show “The Shrinking” – that Twyford particularly enjoyed. With his dog President McKinley (whom he later joked was the “first female president,”) Urie was spotlighted in the crowd looking for his seat. Eventually, he finds his way to the stage delighting the audience with humor and his charisma along the way. “He’s such a magnetic guy,” Twyford said. “Every time he walked on stage, you could tell the audience – especially because he brought his dog – were kind of at the edge of their seats. It was really fun.”

But the dynamic talent assembled for the show was also a recipe for success, Twyford said. “There was a great deal of talent on the stage in the form of Soloman Parker III who sang – and he’s amazing. He also won a Helen Hayes that night. And another nominee named Frenchie Davis, who opened the show – Kanysha Williams also sang “Grateful” for the In Memoriam portion – so really we had some amazing talent,” Twyford said.

Most of all, Twyford finds the evening special every year because it’s not only a true recognition of the “talent and skill our community has,” but a profound celebration of the joy of being part of a real and abiding theater community in the nation’s capital. Theaters as diverse as the world-renown Shakespeare Theatre and as local as the Perisphere Theater of Maryland, “We’re all in the same room celebrating each other’s accomplishments.” 

Recently, a local theater director who spent years working in New York City remarked to Twyford that she couldn’t believe Washington actors recommend each other for competing roles rather compete mercilessly. “I don’t take the word lightly,” Twyford said, “but here we have a real theater community and that’s what it legitimately is.” And you could feel that in the room that evening, she emphasized.

Twyford credited Theatre Washington with weaving the fabric of the D.C. theater community together and keeping it stitched up when necessary. Not only do they host Theater Week to promote local productions on the “best theater website” in town, but during the pandemic they sustained many local members of the community with their Taking Care of Our Own grants. Such grants helped sustain Twyford’s work when D.C. theaters were shuttered as well. “So, they’re really a champion for us. And we’re really lucky to have them.”

Highlights from Theatre Washington’s Press Release: 

For the seventh year, the Helen Hayes Awards were given in parallel tracks determined by the ratio of Actors’ Equity contracts involved in an individual production, recognized as recipients in either the “Helen” or “Hayes” categories. For the first year in 2022, performers were adjudicated as gender inclusive (vs. gender segregated “actor” and “actress”), with ten nominees and two recipients in each performance category. 

Topping the list of theaters receiving Helen Hayes Awards this year was GALA Hispanic Theatre, which received a total of 11 awards for work in 2022, including nine for their production of ON YOUR FEET! La historia de Emilio y Gloria Estefan ¡En español! (Musical, Helen), one for REVOLTOSA (The troublemaker) (Musica, Helen), and one for La casa de la laguna (The House on the Lagoon) (Play, Helen). Going home with four awards for The Color Purple (Musical, Hayes) and two awards for She Loves Me (Musical, Hayes) was Signature Theatre. Olney Theatre Center received three awards for Meredith Willson’s The Music Man and one each for The Joy That Carries You (Play, Hayes) and A.D. 16 (Musical, Hayes). 

Outstanding Productions in 2022 went to Guys and Dolls from The Kennedy Center (Visiting Production), Naked Mole Rat Gets Dressed: The Rock Experience (Theatre for Young Audiences), ON YOUR FEET! from GALA Hispanic Theatre (Musical, Helen), The Color Purple from Signature Theatre (Musical, Hayes), Host & Guest from Synetic Theater (Play, Helen), and John Proctor is the Villain from Studio Theatre (Play, Hayes).

The two recipients of the John Aniello Award for Outstanding Emerging Theatre Company were ExPats Theatre and Prologue Theatre. Prologue Theatre received two additional awards for their production of The Revolutionists (Play, Helen) — Outstanding Supporting Performer Fabiolla Da Silva and Outstanding Director Jessica Lefkow. 

Produced and administered by Theatre Washington, the Helen Hayes Awards honors excellence in professional theatre in the greater Washington area. A full list of award recipients is available on theatrewashington.org or at these links:

All Recipients (alpha by first name) 

Recipients by Production (count)

Recipients by Production (alpha) 

Recipients by Theater (count) 

Recipients by Theater (alpha) 

The 2023 Helen Hayes Tribute honored Bonnie Nelson Schwartz, Founder of the Helen Hayes Awards and a fixture of Washington’s cultural community. Nelson Schwartz is a Tony and Emmy-nominated producer of Broadway theatre, television, and concerts, with over 100 plays, films, television programs, and concerts in Washington, DC, New York, London, and South Africa to her credit.

The two recipients of the John Aniello Award for Outstanding Emerging Theatre Company were ExPats Theatre and Prologue Theatre. Prologue Theatre received two additional awards for their production of The Revolutionists (Play, Helen) — Outstanding Supporting Performer Fabiolla Da Silva and Outstanding Director Jessica Lefkow. 

About Theatre Washington

Through collaborative partnerships and programs, Theatre Washington supports the Washington, DC-area’s professional theatre community to celebrate artistic achievement, strengthen the theatrical workforce, support institutional growth and advancement, and cultivate collective action. Theatre Washington’s core programs include: the Helen Hayes Awards, Theatre Week, Theatre Summit, Theatre Work, and the Taking Care Fund.


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