The emerald-green musical fantasia “The Wiz” at Ford’s Theatre led the way Monday with 13 Helen Hayes Awards nominations, easily heading the field in the annual cavalcade that is greater Washington’s theater awards.
Several years ago, the Hayes Awards expanded into “Helen” categories for smaller theaters and “Hayes” categories for big companies (this oversimplifies the rules change, but not by a lot) while keeping everyone together for one big ceremony, this year set for May 13 at the Anthem.
The unity can be a little unwieldy, with 250 nominations in 47 categories. Here are some key takeaways from Monday’s announcement at the National Theatre:
Director Kent Gash’s production of “The Wiz” at Ford’s Theatre last spring romped among Hayes musicals, with five supporting actors landing nominations. Arena Stage pulled in eight nominations for its revival of the Cole Porter musical “Anything Goes” and seven for the premiere of “Dave,” the musical based on the 1993 Kevin Kline comedy, while the Lerner and Loewe chestnut “Camelot” — a box-office winner for the Shakespeare Theatre Company — got six nominations. Each is up for outstanding musical, along with four-time nominee “Cinderella” from the young-audiences company Imagination Stage.
Among Hayes plays, three of the five nominees for outstanding production came from Woolly Mammoth in the year that longtime artistic director Howard Shalwitz retired. Jordan Tannahill’s culture wars fantasy “Botticelli in the Fire,” Branden Jacobs-Jenkins’s trauma-and-journalism drama “Gloria” and Danai Gurira’s comedy of Zimbabwean immigrants in Minnesota, “Familiar,” accounted for three of the slots. The others: Arena’s production of Paula Vogel’s “Indecent” and Studio Theatre’s staging of Sarah DeLappe’s girls’ soccer drama, “The Wolves” (directed, like “Botticelli,” by Marti Lyons).
On the Helen side, 1st Stage in Tysons Corner picked up outstanding play nominations for a pair of director Alex Levy’s stagings: Aaron Sorkin’s early-days-of-TV drama “The Farnsworth Invention” and the premiere of Bob Bartlett’s “Swimming With Whales.” 1st Stage received 22 nominations all told. Only Arena, with 25, nabbed more.
1st Stage also scored big in the musicals category, with the 1960s-set pop musical “Fly by Night” landing nine nominations, second only to “The Wiz.” Keegan Theatre’s “Chicago” was close behind in the Helen race, with eight nominations.
“Fly by Night” director Kathryn Chase Bryer was nominated for “Fly By Night” and, on the Hayes side, for “Cinderella.” Signature Theatre associate artistic director Matthew Gardiner also earned directing noms in both cohorts — among Hayes musicals for Stephen Sondheim’s “Passion” (six nominations) and a Helen nod for the Matthew Sweet-scored rock musical “Girlfriend” (eight nominations).
The “visiting productions” designation, down to just two categories as the local slots have expanded, is often dominated by touring shows at the National Theatre or the Kennedy Center. But the highly glossy Temptations musical “Ain’t Too Proud” at the Kennedy Center picked up only one nomination, for actor Ephraim Sykes. (It will be eligible for a Tony Award after opening on Broadway this spring.) And “Hamilton,” at the Kennedy Center most of last summer, is sportingly sitting out local awards as it tours, having already reaped more prizes than had been known to exist.
So the five nominated visiting productions this year were all presented by local companies: “The Fall” (from South Africa) at Studio Theatre; “H.M.S. Pinafore” from Chicago’s Hypocrites at the Olney Theatre Center; “The Second City’s She the People” and Ars Nova’s “Underground Railroad Game” at Woolly; and “Waiting for Godot” from Ireland’s Druid at the Shakespeare Theatre Company (where another British hit, “An Inspector Calls,” could have been a contender).
Nominees from last winter’s Women’s Voices Theater Festival, the second citywide effort to champion new scripts by women, were led by director-adaptor Natsu Onoda Power’s “The Lathe of Heaven” for the troupe Spooky Action, earning seven nods. “The Wolves” picked up five nominations, “Familiar” got four, and local writer Caleen Sinnette Jennings’s “Queens Girl in the World” at Mosaic Theater Company earned three. “Handbagged,” Round House Theatre’s runaway hit of Moira Buffini’s Queen Elizabeth vs. Margaret Thatcher play, came up empty.
For a full list of nominees, visit theatrewashington.org.