The Helen Hayes Awards Nominees: Vishal Vaidya, Dan Van Why, Alan Wiggins and Rachel Zampelli by Joel Markowitz

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Nominees Vishal Vaidya, Dan Van Why, Alan Wiggins, and Rachel Zampelli.

Joel: Where were you when you found out that you had been nominated for a Helen Hayes Award, and what was your first reaction?

Vishal: I was doing a reading with the Playwrights Forum that evening. After the reading, I turned on my phone and I had a bunch of texts and voicemails, and had no idea what was going on! At first I was anxious, because my internet wouldn’t load the nomination webpage, but once I could see it in print I was very excited.

Dan: I was actually in rehearsal at The Keegan Theatre when my phone started blowing up with text messages. I was aware that nominations were being announced, but I just figured there was a problem with my day job since I’m generally on call most nights. We were sitting around the piano reviewing music when I took advantage of a sidebar conversation and looked at my phone. My first reaction was surprise and then excitement! My body clearly forgot to consult my brain because I let out a sound that can only be described as a “hoot from a drunken owl” which I unsuccessfully tried to cover up as a sneeze. My second reaction was that I probably shouldn’t be looking at my cell phone during rehearsal.

Vishal Vaidya (Toad) and Sean-Maurice Lynch in Adventure Theatre's 'A Year with Frog and Toad.' Photo by Bruce Douglas.

Alan: When I found out that I was nominated I was at a friend’s house having dinner. My friend got a text from his girlfriend saying to tell me congratulations. My heart started racing and my stomach dropped. I wasn’t sure what she was talking about but I had a feeling. I went to the computer and tried to get onto the theatreWashington website, but I had no luck. Then I logged in to Facebook and saw that I had a congratulatory message from R. Scott Willaims, who played Jacob (my dad) in “Joseph…” It was such a surprise to me that I still couldn’t quite believe that it was true. It wasn’t until I was able to actually see the list on the TheatreWashington website that it started to sink in.

Rachel: I was at my dining room table (a friend text me from the announcement shindig). My first reaction was excitement- mostly to tell my parents and husband, who are and always have been my biggest fans. Best part: I looked up from the text, looked across the table to my husband, Mercer, and said “I’m nominated for a Helen Hayes” and he said “Well, of course you are.” Love that man.

Joel: What were you nominated for and why did you want to play that role?

Vishal: I was nominated for Outstanding Supporting Actor (for playing Frog) in Adventure Theatre’s A Year With Frog and Toad, and also for Oustanding Ensemble for that show. I wanted to do the show because I knew it and loved the music, but mostly because of the Artistic Team (Director Michael Baron, Choreogapher Kate Wernick, and Music Director Aaron Broderick). I had worked with all of them before and knew they were all brilliant.

Dan: I was nominated for the role of Joe Miller in Keegan Theatre’s premiere of National Pastime. I was thrilled at the chance to work with Mark and Susan Rhea and Kurt Boehm again. How could you not love the opportunity to work on a new piece and tell a story that no one has ever heard before? Although I’m not the biggest baseball fan, I found the story to be really charming and clever. I fell in love with the humor immediately. It was a two hour musical version of “Who’s on First.”

Alan: I was nominated in the Lead Actor – Resident Musical category for playing Joseph in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat at Olney Theatre Center.  The audition for Joseph… was my first in the DC area after coming back from school.  I had been cast twice before at Olney but circumstances had not allowed me to accept the previous offers. When I went to the audition something told me to just go for the role of Joseph. I knew that I would be a non-traditional casting choice, but I also knew that this was a role that I would be able to do well. After I was cast I can remember thinking about what a wonderful opportunity I had been given to show all that I learned while away at school and how fortunate I was to get the chance to reintroduce myself to the DC theatre community in a leading role.

 Rachel: I am nominated for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Resident Musical – I think those are all the right words! Probably the biggest attraction, for me, to this role (Valerie Solanis) was that she was SO different from any role in which I have ever been cast- diving in to such a huge transformation was exciting and so interesting…which is what every actor really wants, right? To act! I mean, sure, type-casting works and I honestly do enjoy playing roles that are “my type”, but I think if we can’t ever look beyond that then we are limiting ourselves and our art.

Joel: What were the biggest challenges for you performing in this production? 

Vishal: I can’t really think of any challenges we had with performance. Vocally I struggled a bit, because the role of Frog is written for a baritone, and is a lot lower than what I’m used to singing. We weren’t miked either, so I was nervous that no one would hear me, but because of that I learned a lot about my diction and breath support. If I had to say anythng else, it would be keeping the kids in their seats when our bubble and snow machines were on. They would go nuts!

Dan Van Why in 'National Pastime' at The Keegan Theatre. Photo by Cameron Whitman.

Dan: It’s always exciting to work on a new piece. It’s like putting together a puzzle that has no picture on the box to tell you what’s it’s supposed to look like. Creating one character in a piece is challenging, but having to create three in one show is a different story. Convincing the audience that you have clearly defined three individuals and their stories is only half the battle; you have to start by convincing yourself. Kurt had asked if I could do a triple time step. I couldn’t. However, that didn’t mean my character couldn’t either. Many a night were spent in a corner or a friend’s apartment tripping all over myself. I finally got it. I wasn’t Gene Kelly, but I got it.

Alan Wiggins

Alan: The biggest thing that I had to overcome was not allowing my own preconceived ideas about how the process was supposed to go to get in the way. I found myself more concerned about everyone else than I was with myself. One important lesson that I learned was how to step back and let others do their jobs. I was hired to be an actor and I had to trust that everyone else could and would do their job at the highest level that they knew how.

Rachel: For me, personally, the biggest challenge was health and stamina. The show had a lot of music and was sort of a marathon for everyone- no intermission, very little time off stage- so it was a blast, but it required an enormous amount of energy  I made a conscious effort to stay well-rested and well-hydrated and that helped a lot. Also, with the production’s success, we extended far past our scheduled close, which was wonderful but, it meant that for the last two weeks of the run, I was “double-dipping”- rehearsing Stop Kiss during the days and performing POP! in the evenings, so, taking care of myself, especially getting enough sleep, became an even bigger priority…and even then, I felt like the luckiest person in the world to be so tired and yet so happy.

Joel: What are some of the fondest memories you have about appearing in this production?

Alan Wiggins as Joseph in 'Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat' at Olney Theatre Center. Photo by Stan Barouh.

Vishal: I really enjoyed dancing in the show. It’s not often I get to dance in productions, and Kate Arnold’s choreography was so fun! I especially enjoyed the soft-shoe dance in “He’ll Never Know”, where Frog and Toad rake each other’s yards. We soft-shoed with giant forks (one of the many brilliant props designed by Dre Moore), so what’s not to love about that!

Dan: I have a habit of making impulsive suggestions. I think that sometimes the craziest ideas spawn the best moments. The cast and staff were extremely receptive to new ideas as we worked on the show, but my suggestion of an onstage euphonium solo took a little convincing. “Mark, it’s like a little tuba! C’mon…it’ll be perfect!” You should ask him about it. I have always wanted to play my horn onstage and with this show I got my wish.

Alan: My fondest memories about “Joseph…” are most definitely connected to my wonderful castmates. Most of my castmates had been friends of mine for a number of years from working with them in previous productions. Some, I consider my best friends in the world  Since I had been away at school for a couple years “Joseph…” was my first chance to share the stage with the people that I cared for most in the world. I was also thrilled to meet and work with the other wonderful actors that I knew only through their amazing resumes and reputations.

Rachel Zampelli

Rachel: During the course of POP! I became close with many of my castmates, which I think is a special thing. In particular, Tom Story and I began a friendship that I now value very much,  and I can’t tell you how grateful I am for that, and for his presence in my life.

Joel: What’s next for you on the stage?

Vishal: I just finished up You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown at Olney Theatre, which was a blast. As for what’s next, I don’t have anything lined up yet. I’m planning to move to NYC this summer, but I’d love to continue working in DC, should the opportunity arise.

Dan: I’m excited to be back at Keegan where we just opened the newest revisions to the musical WORKING, based on the writings of Studs Terkel. Come on by!

Rachel Zampelli as Maggie in 'POP!' at The Studio Theatre. Photo by Scott Suchman,

Alan: My next gig will take me out of town, but not too far and not for too long. I will be in the ensemble and understudying the role of John in Miss Saigon at the Fulton Theatre in Lancaster, PA.  I’m excited about the opportunity, but already can’t wait for whatever happens next for me in DC!

Rachel: This summer I’ll be back with Keith Alan Baker and the Studio Theatre Secondstage playing Rachel Jackson in Bloody, Bloody Andrew Jackson (it’s funny actually because I was married on October 10 and, while my Equity/Stage name is, and will remain, Rachel Zampelli, my married name is, in fact, Rachel Jackson. Cute, huh?). After that, I’ll be giving my vocal chords a rest for a while, with Dying City (a play by the fabulous Christopher Shinn, being directed by Matthew Gardiner) at Signature in the fall and then, also at Signature, Beth Henley’s Crimes of the Heart (directed by Aaron Posner)…I have some decisions to make about the winter, but the options are all very exciting, so, I’m really looking forward to next season!

Recipients of the 2012 Helen Hayes Awards will be announced this Monday, April 23, 2012 at The Warner Theatre. Here is more information on the event.

Here are the 28th Helen Hayes Awards nominations.

Congratulations to this year’s nominees!

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Joel Markowitz
Joel Markowitz is the Publisher and Editor of DCMetroTheaterArts. He founded the site with his brother Bruce to help promote the vast riches of theatre and the arts in the DC Metro area that includes Maryland, Virginia, and DC theater and music venues, universities, schools, Children's theaters, professional, and community theatres. Joel is an advocate for promoting the 'stars of the future' in his popular 'Scene Stealers' articles. He wrote a column for 5 years called ‘Theatre Schmooze’ and recorded podcast interviews for DC Theatre Scene. His work can also be seen and read on BroadwayStars. Joel also wrote a monthly preview of what was about to open in DC area theatres for BroadwayWorld. He is an avid film and theater goer, and a suffering Buffalo Bills and Sabres fan. Joel was a regular guest on 'The Lunch and Judy Show' radio program starring Judy Stadt in NYC. Joel founded The Ushers Theatre Going Group in the DC area in 1990, which had a 25-year run when it took its final curtain call last year. Joel is a proud member of The American Critics Association.