June 25, 2003
|The 2003 Helen Hayes Awards|
by Gregory Gorton
The 19th annual Helen Hayes Awards, honoring outstanding achievement in professional theatre for Washington D.C., Baltimore and Northern Virginia, were awarded at a gala celebration May 5th, 2003. The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts once again served as the evening's perfect host. Despite the grandeur and glitz that are trademarks of the Kennedy Center, there was a palpable spirit of community in the air; a definite awareness that honorees and onlookers alike were celebrating all of our efforts as theater professionals.
The producers of the event took a different approach to this year's staging. Instead of a celebrity emcee and a host of other celebrity presenters, the choice was made to use local luminaries. The "unofficial" hosts for the night were Jane Pesci-Townsend and Marty Lodge playing a pair of tourists who introduced, interceded, and interwove their patter with a cast of theatre favorites.
The cast performed excerpts from the six new plays nominated for The Charles MacArthur Award, and were outstanding in presenting vocal selections from all of the nominated musicals. It was a terrific opportunity for all of their peers to see some marvelous performances and some thrilling moments from the nominated shows.
Other members of the cast who helped make the evening memorable were; Halo Wines, Mia Whang, E. Faye Butler, Brian Childers and Howard Shalwitz, Artistic Director for Wooly Mammoth Theatre for the past twenty-three years.
The evening was further enhanced by the outstanding talents of Desire' DoBose, Doug Eskew, Bill Grimmett, Jason Kravits, and Donna Magliacci. Each of them is well-known for individual talent: together they were an effective and formidable ensemble troupe.
The Kennedy Center itself was honored with five awards: Kelli Fournier received the Outstanding Performer in a Non-Resident musical for AIDA. The other four awards were split among the performers and crews of the Kennedy Center's remarkable Sondheim Celebration, including Outstanding Resident Musical for SWEENEY TODD.
Upon winning the Outstanding Lead Actor in a Non-Resident Musical for MAN OF LA MANCHA at The National Theatre, Brian Stokes Mitchell commented that it was, ". . . an honor to trod the same boards where MAN OF LA MANCHA opened thirty- five years ago. Thanks to my favorite cast member, my wife, Allison."
Outstanding Lead Actor in a Resident Musical, Rick Hammerly accepted his award while encouraging some audience participation. "I'm going to do something a little different. I am going to give out the Charo Awards. As I read the names of these people, put your hands up in the air and give a little "coochie, coochie."
Lori Tan Chinn won the Outstanding Supporting Actress award for Arena Stage's production of SOUTH PACIFIC. Said Ms. Chinn, "I would like to thank our wonderful LIVE orchestra."
Holly Twyford was awarded the Outstanding Lead Actress in a Resident Play in THE SHAPE OF THINGS at Studio Theatre, and made a point of thanking her early influences. "My parents are here tonight, and I'd like to thank them for taking me to the theater when I was growing up."
Charter Theatre's production of THE TASTE OF FIRE garnered an award for Jon Cohn as Outstanding Lead Actor in a Resident Play.
The Woolly Mammoth Theatre was presented with two of the major acting awards. Sarah Jones received the Outstanding Lead Actress in a Non-Resident Production for SURFACE TRANSIT; and Michael Ray Escamilla was honored as Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Resident Play for RECENT TRAGIC EVENTS. One of Washington's favorite actresses, Nancy Robinette, received the Outstanding Supporting Actress award for THE LITTLE FOXES at The Shakespeare Theatre. " I love, love, LOVE doing this role", Nancy said.
Ted L. Levy was awarded the Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Resident Musical for Ford's Theatre's HOT MIKADO.
Aside from honoring many familiar shows, The Helen Hayes Awards also honor outstanding new works. James MacArthur, the son of Helen Hayes and playwright Charles MacArthur, presented The Charles MacArthur Award for Outstanding New Play to The Round House Theatre's production of SHAKESPEARE, MOSES, AND JOE PAPP by Ernie Joselovitz. The Arena Stage production of POLK COUNTY was given the Charles MacArthur Award for Outstanding New Musical. POLK COUNTY was written by Zora Neale Hurston and Dorothy Waring; adapted by Kyle Donnelly and Cathy Madison, with music composed, adapted, and directed by Stephen Wade.
The Outstanding Non-Resident Production award went to LYPSINKA! THE BOXED SET, produced at The Studio Theatre.
The award for Outstanding Musical Direction in a Resident Musical was presented to Rob Berman, for The Kennedy Center's Sondheim Celebration production of SUNDAY IN THE PARK WITH GEORGE.
The KPMG Award for Distinguished Service to the Washington Theater Community was presented by Frank Ross of KPMG to Mr. Robert Stephens, President and Chief Operations Officer for Lockheed Martin.
The Washington Post Award for Innovative Leadership in the Theater Community was presented by The Post's Beau Jones, Jr. to Mr. Michael Kaiser, President of the Kennedy Center's Sondheim Celebration. In his acceptance remarks, Mr. Kaiser said, " I would like to thank the stage hands of the Eisenhower Theatre....This proves that even in bad economic times, artistic initiative can be awarded and supported."
One of the refreshing aspects of the Helen Hayes Awards is that the evaluators try to see every show that qualifies and they never shy away from leveling the playing field. Sometimes a theater that has been up and running for only a few years can suddenly find itself playing with the big boys. Such was the case with Synetic Theatre. Barely over three years in existence, Synetic was honored with three Helen Hayes Awards. Irina Tsikurishvili was awarded for her work in Outstanding Choreography for Synetic's production of HAMLET. The award for Outstanding Director of a Resident Play went to Synetic's HAMLET as well, and to director Paata Tsikurishvili. HAMLET continued to have a rewarding evening, earning one of the nights top honors with the Helen Hayes for Outstanding Resident Play.
One of the two categories to have a tie in the voting results was that of Outstanding Director of a Resident Musical. Christopher Ashley won for his direction of SWEENEY TODD at The Kennedy Center. Toby Orenstein was also awarded for her direction of JEKYLL AND HYDE, performed at Toby's Dinner Theatre. In accepting her award, Ms. Orenstein summed up much of the spirit that surrounds the awards themselves and the theater community in general; "The Helen Hayes Awards prove that it doesn't matter if you perform in a warehouse, The Kennedy Center or a dinner theater."
The complete list of awards recipients
Many thanks to Jan Johns for her help and contributions to this article.