The Shakespeare Theatre Company’s “Salome” came out head and shoulders above its rivals at Monday night’s Helen Hayes Awards, earning seven trophies, including outstanding play — an overall honor akin to best picture — and the directing award for the show’s mastermind, Yael Farber.
“Salome” dominated the “play” categories on the “Hayes” side of the awards, which last year began handing out honors on two tracks — Hayes for shows with mostly (or all) Actors’ Equity performers, and Helens for the rest. On the Helen side, Constellation Theatre’s “Avenue Q” rolled up most of the musical awards with seven prizes, including outstanding musical, while Gala Hispanic Theatre’s “Yerma” — a new adaptation of the 1934 Federico Garcia Lorca drama — scored the outstanding play award, plus five more honors.
The Hayes ceremony was held at the Lincoln Theatre, site of last year’s panicky 70-minute event as TheatreWashington, which runs the awards, handed out nearly twice as many trophies as it ever had in marking the best of Washington-area professional theater, thanks to the new Helen/Hayes split. Last night’s 32nd annual Hayes Awards aimed to be more measured, budgeting 2 1/2 hours in an effort to breathe a little dignity back into the night that has long been known as the “drama prom.” The evening was hosted by familiar performers Lawrence Redmond and E. Faye Butler, with a dance party afterward at the 9:30 Club.
The supremacy of the intense, ritualistic “Salome” — Farber’s feminist reworking of the famed myth that Washington Post critic Peter Marks praised for its “stunning lyricism” – could be seen as a vindication of the Women’s Voices Theater Festival, the citywide event that last fall commanded area stages with premiere works by women. Among other WVTF winners, Martyna Majok’s “Ironbound,” a pugnacious drama at Round House Theatre about a single Polish immigrant mother in New Jersey, took the award for original new script, and Dawn Ursula was outstanding actress in a play (Hayes) for her solo turn in Caleen Sinnette Jennings’s 1960s memory drama “Queens Girl in the World” at Theater J.
With “Salome,” “Yerma” and “Avenue Q” dominating their slots, the only splintered area involved the Hayes musicals — the biggest-budget, biggest-profile shows of the year. The outstanding musical honor went to “Dear Evan Hansen,” the current off-Broadway musical that debuted last summer at Arena Stage. “Hansen” director Michael Greif also won.
Top actor in a musical did not go to the show’s star, Ben Platt; in the most glaring oddity of the nominating process, Platt was not even in the running.
The winner was Anthony Warlow for his powerful leading performance in “Man of La Mancha” at the Shakespeare Theatre Company. The STC’s “Kiss Me, Kate” locked up both supporting performer awards for the second banana lovebirds played by singer-dancers Robyn Hurder and Clyde Alves. “Kate’s” Michele Lynch snapped up the choreography award.
Leading actress in a Hayes musical went to Barrett Wilbert Weed, playing Sally Bowles in Signature Theatre’s seedy “Cabaret,” a show that also earned the nod for ensemble in a musical. Signature’s “West Side Story” won for best musical direction.
On the Helen side, “Avenue Q” — the potty-mouth musical comedy with puppets — took three of the four musical acting awards: lead actress (Katy Carkuff), supporting actress (Emily Zickler) and supporting actor (Vaughn Ryan Midder). Kevin McAllister won the leading actor in a musical award for “Ragtime” at Toby’s Dinner Theatre, and the graceful clown-mime-physical artist Mark Jaster won lead actor in a play for “Impossible! A Happenstance Circus,” a show that also earned an award for its charming ensemble.
“Salome’s” dominance was so thorough it even included a leading actor win for Ramzi Choukair, whose speeches as a John the Baptist figure were performed in Arabic. Betting money in that category might have gone to Edward Gero for his much-discussed and -praised turn as the late Supreme Court justice Antonin Scalia in Arena Stage’s “The Originalist.”
Gala’s “Yerma” haul included wins for set, lights, sound, and Mabel del Pozo’s performance in the title role as a barren and oppressed woman. The outstanding emerging company prize went to the Welders, the three-year old playwrights’ cooperative that is now handing the operation to its second round of writers.
The Hayes Awards are the inverse of Broadway’s Tony Awards, where competitors typically open in an anxious rush before the spring deadline to qualify for June prizes that will boost box office and burnish commercial fortunes. (A coolheaded exception is “Hamilton,” which began performances off-Broadway in January 2015 but only strolled to Broadway late last summer, even though it was plainly a hit and a likely success if it had hip-hopped into last year’s Tony sweepstakes.) The Hayes cycle evaluates work from the previous calendar year. These Washington-area shows, practically all from subscription-based nonprofit organizations, are long closed, although you can still see “Dear Evan Hansen” now in New York.
By the numbers, 202 productions met Hayes eligibility criteria last year (fewer than 40 shows are eligible for Tonys this season), with 59 world premieres in the mix, driven in part by the Women’s Voices festival. The judging process was realigned starting with last year’s cycle, which established the “Helen” and “Hayes” pools and assigned discrete panels of judges — totaling 40 overall — to evaluate either plays or musicals in each pool.
A list of who won what at the Helen Hayes Awards. C2