The 33rd Annual Helen Hayes Awards, held at Washington’s Lincoln Theatre, was a fabulous celebration of the D.C. area’s wonderfully talented theater community. Hosts E. Faye Butler and Lawrence Redmond started off the festivities with a fun rendition of “Celebration” that had the audience grooving in their seats. The American Pops Orchestra provided the music, lead by Music Director Luke S. Frazier. Later on in the program, Nicholas Rodriguez sang a moving version of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” while a montage of theater greats and supporters who had passed away in the last year played on a screen behind the stage.
One of the highlights of the evening was a surprise appearance by Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, which brought the crowd to its feet in a rousing standing ovation. Justice Ginsburg was there to present the Helen Hayes Tribute Award to Ted Van Griethuysen, longtime actor on the D.C. stage. In a video clip shown before the award, Griethuysen, now 82 years old, mentioned that he was extremely interested in the future of the U.S.: “one reason I don’t want to die is I want to see how it turns out.” In his acceptance speech, he remembered his first production was George Bernard Shaw’s Androcles and the Lion, in which he played the Lion. He also remarked that “the arts are the most important aspect of a civilized society,” and that theater can be a powerful way of gaining empathy for other people; “in becoming other, we become ourselves.” He also reminded the audience that while awards are wonderful and should be appreciated, “the theater is an art form, not a competition.”
Throughout the evening, the acceptance speeches were heartfelt and moving. More than a few spoke about the importance of theater and storytelling in these uncertain times. Lily Balatincz of Constellations, winner of Outstanding Lead Actress in a Play – Helen, and Australian, shared that she was the daughter of a refugee who was given a home in Australia. Psalmayene 24, who won Outstanding Direction for a Play – Helen for Word Becomes Flesh, remarked that “black people are still getting killed in the streets, and we can actually stop this.”
A cast member of Word Becomes Flesh, who won Outstanding Ensemble in a Play – Helen, spoke “for the artists of color in the world.”
Bobby Smith of La Cage aux Folles, winner of Outstanding Lead Actor in a Musical – Hayes, confessed that “I had never put on a dress before, or worn high heels”, and thanked the cast and crew “for putting up with me.” He also remembered that the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando happened the day of opening night, which made for an emotional time.
Sabrina Mandell of MOXIE: A Happenstance Vaudeville, winner of Outstanding Costume Design -Hayes, spoke about her great-grandparents, who immigrated to the States and worked hard in pursuit of a better life. She ended by saying “I want to thank all the courageous immigrants.”
Sarah Pickett, who with Andre Pluess won Outstanding Sound Design – Hayes for A Midsummer Night’s Dream, thanked the staff of the Folger Shakespeare Library who kept the Library and Folger Theatre open during last winter’s blizzard.
Liam Forde of Hand to God, winner of the Robert Prosky Award for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Play – Hayes, gleefully remarked, “I love being an actor so much” and “the happiest times in my life have been onstage.”
The winners had the names of the people they wanted to thank projected on the screen behind the stage. One of the most memorable of these was from Alexandra Beller of Sense and Sensibility, winner of Outstanding Choreography for a Play – Hayes, whose list read, “Jane Austen, for being a badass feminist in sheep’s clothing (literally).”
Tom Teasley of Journey to the West, who won Outstanding Sound Design – Helen, briefly spoke about how the play had taken him on his own journeys to Basra, Baghdad, and the Middle East.
Alyssa Wilmoth Keegan, of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, winner of Outstanding Lead Actress in a Play – Hayes, said to the women in the audience, “we are all clever, sexy, passionate women”, and encouraged them to “kick ass and take names!”
There was plenty of humor as well. A cast member of Come From Away, winner of Outstanding Ensemble in a Musical – Hayes, jokingly remarked on how close they had all come during their performance: “we finish each other’s sentences onstage and sometimes offstage.”
Rich Foucheux of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, who won the James A. MacArthur Award for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Play – Hayes, thanked his neighbor “for finally taking down that tree.”
Aaron Posner of District Merchants, winner of Outstanding Play or Musical, urged the audience to “work to be our best possible selves” and help “bring the world together.” He also asked them to “make art for a world that demands it.”
One of the cast of Come From Away, which won Outstanding Musical Production – Hayes, mentioned how important it is, now more than ever, of “opening our hearts to the other, those who look, sound, believe differently than us.”
The cast of Sense and Sensibility, winner of Outstanding Production, Play – Hayes, commented on their production, calling it “a story well told that moves the hearts and minds of audiences”which shows the power and importance of theater.
The evening was both a delightful celebration of theater and a reminder of its value in the world. Congratulations to all the nominees and winners!
Running Time: Two hours and 30 minutes, with no intermission.
The 33rd Annual Helen Hayes Awards were presented by theaterWashington on Monday, May 15, 2017 at the Lincoln Theatre – 1215 U Street, in Washington, D.C.
Report: ‘The 33rd Annual Helen Hayes Awards’ at the Lincoln Theatre, by Wendi Winters.