The Kennedy Center’s “Side Show” and Signature Theatre’s “Sunday in the Park With George” tied for top musical honors at Monday night’s unusually swift Helen Hayes Awards — the first awards to split the Washington area’s theater scene (after much controversy) into two categories, “Helen” and “Hayes.”
“Side Show” and “Sunday” triumphed in the Hayes camp (shows in which more than half the performers are members of the union Actors’ Equity). In the Hayes field, the Olney Theatre Center’s arresting staging of “Colossal,” Andrew Hinderaker’s new play about the surprisingly rough intersection of football and dance, led all nonmusicals with four wins including the Charles MacArthur Award for outstanding original play or musical.
Yet in classically quirky HHA fashion, the last prize of the evening went to a show that had won nothing up to that point, as Studio Theatre’s “Cock” strutted away with the outstanding play honor. (It’s akin to the best picture Oscar.)
“This is a bit of a surprise,” said Studio Artistic Director David Muse, ending the evening after a rambunctious and lightning-fast 70 minutes for the presentation of a record 47 competitive trophies.
On the Helen side — generally populated by smaller companies with mostly (or entirely) non-Equity casts — Theater Alliance, an inventive troupe headquartered in the 120-seat Anacostia Playhouse, showed switch-hitting ability. Theater Alliance took the top prizes for outstanding musical (“Black Nativity”) and outstanding play (“The Wonderful World of Dissocia”).
In the first year with separate classifications, the seven trophies for Theater Alliance ended up being the most for any troupe. Olney and the Kennedy Center had five apiece, and Signature Theatre won four.
It’s probably a misnomer to say that this 31st Hayes Awards has “split.” It’s more like a multiplication: The number of awards practically doubled this year.
The evening immediately felt like “Beat the Clock,” with an onstage quartet loudly playing off the winners after a strict 30 seconds. The theater crowd got the gist quickly, sprinting toward the stage and offering hasty yet heartfelt thanks in the sports-like atmosphere. (A frenetic relay race came to mind.) Several actresses ran to the stage barefoot as more than 40 trophies were handed out in about an hour.
But is it still the theater prom? The event has always prided itself on being the one night a year that the entire theater community congregates and celebrates, with a big party following the awards. (After Monday’s ceremony at the Lincoln Theatre, the festivities migrated east on U Street NW to the Howard Theatre for the post-show bash.) Chicago’s Jeff Awards split into Equity and non-Equity camps decades ago, with separate events held at different times of the year. But even though it meant cramming all its awards into one event, so far Theatre Washington, which administers the HHA, is choosing unification of time and place. All together now!
Individually, it was a great night for Erin Weaver. Already a two-time Hayes winner in recent years, Weaver was named outstanding supporting actress in a play for her turn as the mute daughter in “Mother Courage and Her Children” at Arena Stage. She won again as supporting actress in a musical for “Ordinary Days” at Round House Theatre; this was the eighth award of the night, and it was only 8:15.
Capping it off, Weaver also had a hand in the outstanding play or musical adaptation win for the Kennedy Center’s “The Gift of Nothing,” which she wrote with her husband, Aaron Posner; “Mutts” cartoonist Patrick McDonnell; and songwriter Andy Mitton.
Sound designer Christopher Baine won twice — for his work on “Colossal” and, with Matthew M. Nielson, “The Wonderful World of Dissocia.” Ben Cunis also won twice — as co-choreographer with Christopher D’Amboise on “Colossal” and with Irina Tsikurishvili on Synetic Theater’s Helen-classified “Twelfth Night.”
And the big musicals trying out in Washington last year? “Little Dancer,” the Lynn Ahrens-Stephen Flaherty musical directed and choreographed by Susan Stroman at the Kennedy Center, won the only prize it was up for — Stroman’s choreography. The Sheryl Crow-Barry Levinson “Diner” at Signature also had a single nomination, and it came up empty. “Side Show” fared better, winning for Paul Tazewell’s costumes and for its ensemble of actors, although Erin Davie and Emily Padgett — both nominated as leading actress for playing the show’s conjoined sisters — were edged out by Brynn O’Malley, Dot in Signature’s “Sunday in the Park With George.”
Other top performers, Hayes class: Kimberly Gilbert won lead actress in a play for her turn as the title character in Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company’s “Marie Antoinette,” and Rick Foucheux won for lead actor in a play as another historical figure, Sigmund Freud, in Theater J’s “Freud’s Last Session.” Lead actor in a musical was nabbed by Sam Ludwig for his animated work in Olney’s “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying.”
Helen class: Lead actress in a play went to Nanna Invarsson for “The Amish Project” at Factory 449, and lead actor was Doug Wilder for the antic “One Man, Two Guvnors” at 1st Stage. The musical lead winners were Barbara Walsh in Studio Theatre’s “Carrie: The Musical” and Alan Naylor in Creative Cauldron’s “Jacques Brel Is Alive and Well & Living in Paris.”
In noncompetitive categories, the John Aniello Award for outstanding emerging troupe went to Flying V, and the National New Play Network took the Washington Post Award for innovative leadership.
The HHA follows the calendar year, meaning all the nominated shows opened in 2014; 188 productions from 50 theaters were eligible. Full details of the HHA judging process, which was dramatically revamped last year to create more targeted panels and a “second look” for reevaluating after the nomination process, are available on the Theatre Washington Web site.