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Ties abound in Helen Hayes Awards

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Clear winners were scarce at the Helen Hayes Awards on Monday night, with actors, directors and artistic directors often striding to the Warner Theatre stage to claim halves of the Washington area’s annual theater honors. When the everyone’s-a-winner happy dust settled on the gala event, the Shakespeare Theatre Company and its Chicago import musical “Candide” had the most trophies in hand (though with nearly a fifth of the evening’s categories resulting in ties, it wasn’t clear who would be buying the drinks afterward).

“Candide,” an STC co-production with Chicago’s Goodman Theatre, two-stepped with Arena Stage’s “Oklahoma!” all night in the musical categories. “Okla­homa!” wound up with four awards, including prizes for choreography and musical direction. “Candide,” the ambitious and cultishly beloved 1950s musical based on Voltaire’s sendup of optimism, won six awards, with nods for its director (Mary Zimmerman), lead actress (Lauren Molina) and supporting actress (Hollis Resnik). Geoff Packard of “Candide” and Nicholas Rodriguez of “Oklahoma!” split the lead actor award.

“I’m a twin, so I’ve been tied all my life,” Packard cracked.

It must indeed be the best of all possible worlds: “Candide” and “Oklahoma!” shared top honors as outstanding resident musical.

The ceremony looked sharp as ever, with a live orchestra onstage and plenty of glitzy singer-dancers peppering the evening with song parodies. But it ground slowly: Thank-you speeches were discreet, without any great gags or gaffes at the podium, and sometimes no winner at the podium at all. (Seventy-five minutes in, more than a half-dozen winners were no-shows.) The early highlight was the dedication of a Helen Hayes postage stamp.

“That’s why the lady’s on a stamp,” sang the singers as a full-blown dance number broke out.

The awards rounded out a year marked by expansiveness and transitions, notably the retirement of Studio Theatre founding director Joy Zinoman and the reopening of Arena Stage at its lavishly renovated $135 million complex.

Last week’s Pulitzer Prize-winning drama “Clybourne Park” got its fingers on two Hayes Awards, including the straight-play biggie. Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company’s production of “Clybourne Park,” Bruce Norris’s sly “Raisin in the Sun” update, was named outstanding resident play (which means production — it’s like Best Picture) . . . and so was the Folger Theatre’s “Hamlet.” Longtime Woolly Mammoth Artistic Director Howard Shalwitz won his first Hayes Award, after eight career nominations, for directing “Clybourne Park.”

“Clybourne Park” premiered in New York, so it was not eligible for the new play or musical award. In a thin category dominated this year by material geared for young audiences, the prize went to “The Liar,” Pierre Corneille’s 17th-century comedy as adapted by David Ives.

Shalwitz split his directing honors with Synetic Theater’s Paata Tsikurish­vili, who, with a win Monday night for “Othello,” picked up his fourth directing Hayes trophy since 2003 for his all-but-patented brand of wordless Shakespeare. (Synetic is currently transferring its production of “King Lear” from the Lansburgh Theatre downtown to Crystal City; on Monday night, its “Othello” cast was named outstanding ensemble.)

And yet another tie: Graham Hamilton, playing the title character in the Folger’s “Hamlet,” shared resident-play leading actor honors with Johnny Ramey, as the lively young black writer in Tracy Letts’s hippie-fights-cynicism drama “Superior Donuts” at the Studio Theatre. With 10 nominees, that category was destined for deadlock.

Erika Rose, one of three women nominated from Theater J in the lead actress category, won for her turn as an aggrieved Sudanese woman in “In Darfur.” Naomi Jacobson, a nominee in both leading and supporting actress categories — her 12th and 13th such nods — nabbed her second career trophy for her work in STC’s “Richard II.”

Special awards included a tribute to the lanky Broadway singer-dancer-director Tommy Tune (“Thank y’all,” the Texan drawled before crooning “ ’S Wonderful,” accompanied by the orchestra), and a leadership award (sponsored by The Washington Post) went to Ford’s Theatre for its “History on Stage” and “History on Foot” programs. Factory 449: A Theatre Collective and No Rules Theatre Company were both recognized as outstanding emerging troupes.

The conscientiously inclusive awards, which discriminate between resident and non-resident (or touring) shows but not between Equity and non-Equity productions, considered 196 eligible professional productions that were evaluated by a rotating pool of 60 judges, eight of whom attend any given show. The ballots used for nominating also determine winners — shows you normally can’t see anymore, since the awards cover events that opened during the previous calendar year. But in a neat reversal of form, the hit productions of “Oklahoma!” and “Clybourne Park” will both reopen this summer.

Pressley is a freelance writer.

© The Washington Post Company