The feel-good musical “Come From Away” came away with the biggest haul as the Helen Hayes Award nominations were announced at the National Theatre on Monday night, carting off 14 overall nods for its uplifting saga of airline passengers stranded in Newfoundland during the 9/11 crisis. Three men and five women, all in supporting roles for the balanced, ensemble-driven show, earned acting nominations for the musical that originated at California’s La Jolla Playhouse, alighted at Ford’s Theatre last fall and begins previews on Broadway on Feb. 18.
Arlington’s Signature Theatre garnered 25 nominations for six shows, led by 10 for the jazz musical “Jelly’s Last Jam.” “Jelly” will vie for top musical honors with “Come From Away,” Arena Stage’s revival of “Carousel” and two more Signature efforts: “Titanic” and “La Cage aux Folles.”
Studio Theatre also has a half-dozen shows in the running, and the downtown troupe commands three of the five slots for outstanding play (meaning best production). Studio’s productions of contemporary works — Robert Askins’s grim comic “Hand to God,” Deirdre Kinahan’s two-character relationship drama “Moment” and writer-performer Staceyann Chin’s solo “Motherstruck” — share the category with older titles: Round House Theatre’s revival of Tennessee Williams’s “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” and the sprightly adaptation of Jane Austen’s “Sense and Sensibility” at the Folger Theatre.
All those shows are on the “Hayes” side of the Helen Hayes equation. The awards organize the eligible professional productions in the Washington area — 200 of them in 2016 — into “Hayes” for shows with half or more of its actors on Equity contracts, and “Helen” for largely non-Equity productions. The third category is for visiting productions touring through D.C. or originating elsewhere.
Topping the “Helen” ranks: Happenstance Theater’s “Moxie: A Happenstance Vaudeville,” with 11 nominations. Marc Bamuthi Joseph’s hip-hop fugue for five men “Word Becomes Flesh,” produced by the Anacostia-based Theater Alliance, picked up 10 nominations, and four of its actors occupy the five supporting acting spots. The Dupont Circle company Keegan Theatre harvested 16 nominations, powered by revivals of the recent rock musicals “Next to Normal” (eight) and “American Idiot” (five).
Constellation Theatre landed “Helen” nominations in both the outstanding play (“Equus”) and musical categories (“Urinetown”). Demonstrating that the awards sort shows according to contract, not by theater, Studio’s staging of Nick Payne’s “Constellations” — produced as part of the troupe’s flexible, experimental Studio X series — is up for outstanding play in the “Helen” category.
Multiple Hayes winner Holly Twyford is one of several performers who earned two nominations; Twyford was named as a lead actress for the Caryl Churchill gender bender “Cloud 9” at Studio and for “Blackberry Winter” with Forum Theatre. Alyssa Wilmoth Keegan is among the whopping five “Come From Away” supporting actresses, and she is also nominated for her leading turn as Maggie the Cat in “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.” The rapidly emerging actor Justin Weaks earned supporting nominations for “The Christians” at Theater J and “Word Becomes Flesh.” Sam Ludwig also earned two nods (“Titanic” and the new musical “Monsters of the Villa Diodati” at Creative Cauldron), and Kari Ginsburg picked up nominations as supporting actress in a play for “When the Rain Stops Falling” at 1st Stage and as lead actress in “Next to Normal.”
Signature stalwart Bobby Smith, meanwhile, will compete against himself for lead actor in a musical. He’s nominated for both “Titanic” and “La Cage” — and his “La Cage” co-star Brent Barrett is named in that category, as well.
The awards, to be presented in what’s annually dubbed the “theater prom” May 15 at the Lincoln Theatre, are determined by 40 judges subdivided into specific panels. Second-guessing is inevitable, and this year’s “what about these?” titles may include Arena’s production of Ayad Akhtar’s Muslim American identity drama “Disgraced,” which was shut out entirely. The similarly hot-button Lynn Nottage drama “Sweat,” about working-class Pennsylvanians erupting into racial violence, was categorized as a visiting production at Arena from the Oregon Shakespeare Festival and thus wasn’t eligible for much; “Sweat” begins performances on Broadway next month.
Also on the outside looking in: Ivo van Hove’s dynamic “A View From the Bridge” at the Kennedy Center via Broadway, where it picked up 2016 Tony Awards for best direction and revival. “View” was edged from the outstanding visiting production category by Fiasco Theater’s “Into the Woods” at the Kennedy Center, guitarist-singer-songwriter Benjamin Scheuer’s solo “The Lion” at Arena, illusionist Geoff Sobelle’s solo “The Object Lesson” at Studio, and the extravaganzas “The Mikado” (from Chicago’s Hypocrites at the Olney Theatre Center) and “Moby Dick” (from Chicago’s Lookingglass Theatre Company and Actors Gymnasium).