The Washington Post

Folger Theatre’s ‘Shrew’ wins Helen Hayes Award for outstanding resident play

The Folger Theatre’s wild west “The Taming of the Shrew” rode a field-topping nine nominations going into Monday night’s Helen Hayes Awards at the Warner Theatre, Washington theater’s annual gala event. It only lassoed one trophy, but it was the biggie, the final award of the night: outstanding resident play.

That marked the sixth time in seven years that a Shakespearean production has claimed or shared the top Hayes honor.

The musicals race saw an almost clean split between Signature Theatre’s lavish “Dreamgirls” and the lean revue “Jacques Brel Is Alive and Well and Living in Paris” at Alexandria’s small Metrostage.

“Dreamgirls” snagged the highest laurel as outstanding musical. The show also won for Frank Labovitz’s eye-popping costumes, and for Cedric Neal’s electric supporting turn as the James Brown-like entertainer Jimmy Early.

“Brel” took the awards for leading actor (Bobby Smith), actress (Natascia Diaz), and director of a musical (longtime Studio Theatre staffer Serge Seiden).

Toby’s Dinner Theatre of Columbia arrived with the most-nominated musical, “The Color Purple.” Only one of its eight nominations paid off, as Theresa Cunningham came through in the supporting actress category. That was a tie: The other winner was Priscilla Cuellar in “Legally Blonde the Musical,” also at Toby’s.

The major acting awards went to two high-wire performances at the Shakespeare Theatre Company. Francesca Faridany won for stylishly shouldering Eugene O’Neill’s nearly four-hour psychological epic “Strange Interlude,” while Steven Epp clowned his way to a trophy in the riotous commedia piece “The Servant of Two Masters.”

No production or troupe was dominant. The Studio Theatre’s “Invisible Man,” adapted from the Ralph Ellison novel, won more awards (three) than any other play, tallying victories for Christopher McElroen’s direction, Mary Louise Geiger’s megawatt lighting design, and for outstanding ensemble.

Woolly Mammoth’s wrestling drama “The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity” came in with as many nominations as “The Taming of the Shrew.” It ended up winning twice, once for Misha Kachman’s wrestling ring set design, which tied with Todd Rosenthal’s Mark Rothko paint studio for “Red” (at Arena Stage by way of Chicago’s Goodman Theatre).

“Elaborate Entrance” also won for Joe Isenberg’s body-slamming fight choreography, which pinned its dance competitors — among them Arena’s “The Music Man” and Imagination Stage’s “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” (featuring choreography by the Washington Ballet’s Septime Webre and David Palmer) — to the mat.

“The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” took prizes as outstanding ensemble for a musical, and as the outstanding production in the young audiences category.

Woolly scored another minor upset as Anne Washburn’s drama “Mr. Burns, a post-electric play” bested a host of traditional musicals for the musical direction nod, which went to Jonathan Tuzman. The play’s final passages featured an original score by composer Michael Friedman (“Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson”).

Paul Downs Colaizzo’ s drama of cutthroat college kids, “Really Really,” was named outstanding new work. That play, which was recently produced in New York, premiered at Signature last winter. The Hayes Awards considers shows from the previous calendar year. All the eligible 2012 productions offered by 54 theaters – 150 plays and 51 musicals – are now closed.

In non-competitive categories, “Dizzy Miss Lizzie’s Roadside Revue” was tapped for the John Aniello Award as outstanding emerging troupe. The company’s high-energy rock-and-roll adaptations of literary classics have been a staple at recent Capital Fringe Festivals. The Fringe, heading into its eighth season this summer, took the Washington Post Award for Innovative Leadership.

The Hayes event, administered by the industry support organization TheatreWashington, is now in its 29th year. Each show is rated by eight of the Hayes stable of 48 judges. The ballots they submit create both the nominations and the final results.

Pressley is a freelance writer.

First Post byline, 1992; covering theater for the Post since 1999. His book "American Playwriting and the Anti-Political Prejudice" came out in 2014.



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