Perhaps Kevin Spacey set the mood before the awards began. Lowball in hand, lounging against the mahogany bar in the lobby of the Warner Theatre, the two-time Oscar winner seemed like any other theater enthusiast. Mingling quietly. Smiling indiscriminately. Taking it in and drinking it up before the three hours of “Wows” and “Thank you’s” and “I told my partner not to come. I never thought I’d win this.”
This, the Helen Hayes Awards, Washington’s Tony Award-equivalent with better speeches and fewer red ropes, is always a riotous affair, followed by an even larger one, roundly beloved (and cursed the next morning) for its generous open bar and Monday-night start time of 11 p.m.
Who said the theater has to be dark on Monday?
The crowd was even more jazzed this year to have a luminary, a great theater actor gone grander in film, accepting the Helen Hayes Tribute in the flesh. He showed up. Concluding his heartfelt speech, Spacey commanded, “And everybody in the balcony, everybody out there who has a dream… [Expletive] live it.”
And live it—did he say live it up?-- they did, at the JW Marriott, where the after party began with remixed versions of “Pumped Up Kicks” by a DJ dressed in Gaga-inspired regalia, playing tracks for a crowd of professional dancers, actors, set designers and patrons still enjoying rum and revelry at 1 a.m. Fueled by bottomless bourbon, Georgetown cupcakes and plates of potstickers and waffle fries, the crowd converged upon the dance floor shortly after midnight, with supporters of Signature Theatre and Arena Stage dancing side by side to Michael Jackson’s “Beat It.”
The mix of young theatre professionals and seasoned patrons made the party a vibrant, unusual smorgasbord of Washington galagoers. Bethesda, meet U Street. We, too, wear ascots to wingtips to black-tie affairs.
Yet the mix couldn’t be a more appropriate sample of a theater community that supplies 11,000 jobs in the Washington Metro area. All — the actors, costume designers, choreographers, band and board members — showed up and stayed late, past the usual curfew at less eccentric D.C. fetes.
This reporter left early, around 1 a.m., with the red carpet still packed with winning ensembles, instagraming and tweeting “Great to see yous!” #HHAwards” into the wee hours of Tuesday morning.