Mirandamania continued in Washington on Monday night at the Anthem as Lin-Manuel Miranda’s 2008 musical “In the Heights” earned top Helen Hayes Award honors on both sides of the D.C. theater prize divide.
The Olney Theatre Center-Round House Theatre co-production of “In the Heights” topped a strong field on the bigger-budget “Hayes” side of the awards, which expanded four years ago to reflect Washington theater’s growth and create balanced comparisons. The show, produced at the Olney, won only two awards, but one was for top musical, besting Signature Theatre’s “A Little Night Music” and “Crazy for You,” Ford’s Theatre’s “Ragtime” and Round House’s “Caroline, or Change.”
On the smaller-budget “Helen” side, GALA Hispanic Theatre’s U.S. premiere of a Spanish-language “In the Heights” had the biggest night of all, collecting nine awards including outstanding musical, director and choreographer (both to Luis Salgado), musical direction and ensemble. Laura Lebrón won leading-actress honors for her performance as college dropout Nina, and Félix Marchany — whose name flashed on the screen before all the nominees had been announced — earned the supporting-actor award as the Piragua Guy.
Among plays, the Shakespeare Theatre Company’s “Twelfth Night” led Hayes-side contenders, landing four awards; on a balanced night, no other show took home more than two trophies. “Twelfth Night” was named outstanding play (the best-picture Oscars equivalent), and it also won for Ethan McSweeny’s direction and Lee Savage’s set, which imaginatively turned Harman Hall into an airport terminal. And Jim Lichtscheidl won the supporting actor prize.
Theater Alliance’s “Still Life With Rocket,” an immersive project conceived and directed by Mollye Maxner about a retired female boxer and dementia, won outstanding play on the Helen side. Theater Alliance, which performs in the Anacostia Playhouse, has captured that top honor three times in the four years since the awards expanded in 2015.
The Hayes Awards continue to evolve, growing from the overhasty 2015 fiasco at the Lincoln Theatre — where the gala crowd for what’s long been called Washington’s “drama prom” had to hobble blocks away for the post-awards party — to Monday’s all-in-one event at the Anthem, the new concert venue a stone’s throw from Arena Stage. The Anthem gave the three-hour event a high gloss, despite the heavy downpour as everyone arrived and despite the evening’s slow start and halting pace (with near-calamities in communication toward the end).
“There are 1,862 of you,” Theatre Washington President and CEO Amy Austin told the typically boisterous crowd. “Which means we’re doing something right.”
Since their beginnings in 1985, the awards have been more about celebration than competition, and parceling roughly 50 awards in less than three hours keeps the city’s professional theaters together for the night, rather than at separate Equity and non-Equity ceremonies months apart, which has long been Chicago’s model.
The community spirit has led Theatre Washington, which administers the awards, to increasingly bestow its annual Tribute upon distinguished D.C. figures rather than national and international stage celebrities. (Kevin Spacey was the last such honoree, in 2012.) One of the city’s most versatile and durable performers, Nancy Robinette, earned this year’s Tribute; Robinette, seen most recently in Annie Baker’s “John” at Signature, picked up her first Hayes nomination in 1987 and has won for performances at Woolly Mammoth, Studio Theatre, Round House and the Shakespeare Theatre.
Last year’s Tribute honoree, Ted van Griethuysen, won his eighth acting award for his leading turn as a dementia sufferer in “The Father” at Studio. Other Hayes-side acting winners included Lizan Mitchell as the matriarch in Arena Stage’s “A Raisin in the Sun” and Rayanne Gonzales as the grandmother in the Olney-Round House “In the Heights.”
The tie for leading actor in a musical included a curiosity: Blakely Slaybaugh was named for his rubbery dancing in Arena’s “The Pajama Game,” though his role as Prez seems to fit the definition of “supporting,” since there is a clear romantic lead in that show. Slaybaugh tied with Kevin McAllister, who won for playing Coalhouse Walker Jr. in “Ragtime” at Ford’s — two years after winning for the same role at Toby’s Dinner Theater.
Signature’s sterling revival of Stephen Sondheim’s “A Little Night Music” managed wins only for Tracy Lynn Olivera and Will Gartshore as a hilariously embattled married couple. Top directing honors for a musical went to Kathryn Chase Bryer for the theater-for-young-audiences show “Wonderland: Alice’s Rock & Roll Adventure” at Imagination Stage.
On the Helen side, Michael Innocenti of Keegan Theatre’s “Parade” was named outstanding lead actor in a musical. Felicia Curry won lead actress in a drama for “Lela & Co.” with Factory 449, which also earned Rick Hammerly a directing win. Frank Britton claimed the lead-actor award for his fervent work in the 1st Stage production of “Jesus Hopped the ‘A’ Train.”
Last fall’s pre-Broadway tryout of “Mean Girls,” which has 12 nominations for next month’s Tony Awards, won as best visiting production, but most Helen Hayes awards were for locally grown shows that opened in 2017. Unlike Broadway’s high-stakes Tonys, which boost box office for commercial shows, the Hayes Awards sort through the city’s professional (and mostly not-for-profit) productions that in some cases haven’t been seen since January 2017. A rare exception is Tearrance Arvelle Chisholm’s “Hooded, or Being Black for Dummies,” now being revived by Mosaic Theater Company and now boasting the award as outstanding original new work of 2017.