All words: Courtney Pitman
All photos: Jen Cubas
The District’s drama elite descended upon the Warner Theater last night for the 29th annual Helen Hayes Awards, Theatre Washington’s less pretentious take on the Tonys. Pulling my best Giuliana Rancic (the imaginary pale, quiet, well-fed version), I dove into the glittery fray wide-eyed and open-mouthed, and then proceeded not to speak to a single person all night. In doing so, I absorbed every fabulous moment through my own process of silent osmosis.
The Awards were initially intimidating–all glitterati and seas of black tuxes sported by men much prettier than me–but the evening settled into an endearing air of normalcy with the genuine excitement of the attendees, the vast majority of whom are embedded in DC theatre. Rather than an uptight soiree, the Helen Hayes Awards is a party, supportive and celebratory of the local community packed into the Warner Theater. This tone was set at the onset with an opening video clip mimicking the SNL intro and featuring the performers hanging around DC, and then reinforced by a schmaltzy “Let’s see a show!” tune. The stills from nominated productions plastered across the screen elicited wild cheers from attendees as they recognized themselves and their friends.
These eruptions of support continued through the entire evening, with certain productions, performers, nominees, and winners receiving thunderous applause and catcalls. Aptly called #DramaProm, the decadent celebration brought out a more-attractive-than-the-real-populace, theatrically-inclined cohort, and it was easy to identify the popular kids (looking at you, Dreamgirls) by the level of noise each instigated. Also, since the honorees are well above high school age, the show was basically a live version of Glee.
On a triumphant evening in the beautiful bubble of the Warner Theater, the strength of DC’s theatre community shone brightly. While Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris (MetroStage), The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity (Woolly Mammoth), Dreamgirls (Signature Theatre), and The Invisible Man (Studio Theatre) seemed to dominate the awards categories, the vast number of productions nominated is a testament to the quality and depth of DC theatre. The easy performance highlight of the night was the tongue-in-cheek doo wop number thanking the Awards sponsors, which conjured brilliant imagery along the lines of confused American Airlines corporate execs trying to react appropriately to a glitter bomb. Another highlight was a video spoof (a la SNL, again) of erectile dysfunction ads, prescribing theatre to spice up a couple’s life with a healthy helping of suggestive banana props.
In other news, there was not one mention of the NCAA basketball championship.
• Most Famous || Ellen Burstyn
• Most Likely to (Continue to) Succeed || Dizzy Miss Lizzie’s Roadside Revue, recipient of the John Aniello Award for Outstanding Emerging Theatre Company. “Theatre needs to expand to become relevant and fresh again.”
• Best Dressed || The guy in the kilt. Unfortunately, it was not Kanye.
• Most Likely to Have a Charmingly Bumbling British Accent || Christopher Saul, Outstanding Supporting Performer, Non-Resident Production, Hamlet, Folger Theatre
• Most Likely to be a Politician || Cedric Neal, Outstanding Supporting Actor, Resident Musical, Dreamgirls, Signature Theatre. He managed to get in a “Holy Helen Hayes!” endearingly thank his “Dream Man” he met during Dreamgirls, and then dedicate his win to the Sandy Hook victims.
• Best Presenter || Maurice Hines
• Most Outspoken || E. Faye Butler, Outstanding Supporting Actress, Resident Play, Pullman Porter Blues, Arena Stage. Slash awesomest. She managed to talk for five minutes without losing steam or the audience’s attention.