The DC theatre community hurried along the waterfront on Monday night, attempting to beat the looming, black storm clouds that threatened, but this could not dampen the vibrant crowds as they entered the recently opened Anthem for this year's Helen HayesAwards. This stunning, modern space will be greeting the likes of Belle & Sebastian, Janelle Monáe, and Nine Inch Nails in the coming months, and on this evening, theatre creative showed off their finest.
Now in its 34th year, The Helen Hayes Awards celebrate the work of theatre artists in the DC area for the previous year, to include actors, directors, playwrights, designers, and more. Further, it is an annual place where artists gather in en masse, in a business where companies are often separated by conflicting show schedules. This year's festivities were hosted by Michael J. Bobbitt and Alyssa Wilmoth Keegan, who opened with a charming rendition of "Wilkommen" from Cabaret. Their banter was light hearted and charming, and they treated the audience to a mid-award dance duet. The evening was a solid 3 hours of awards and despite noble attempts by Keegan and Bobbitt, the pacing was hit and miss. The Anthem is a very large and cavernous space, and though the design of the stage was clean and crisp, it meant that walking either from backstage to the podium as a presenter or up form the audience to accept and award took a draggingly long amount of time. Equally frustrating were the awkward holds as a presenter awaited the arrival of an award winner who was not in the audience. Much of this could have and should have been anticipated.
In spite of all that, the celebratory tone of the evening shone through. Bobbitt led a delightful set of audience shout outs to celebrate the companies who bought out the boxes for their companies to attend, as well as leading a full audience selfie and shout out to DC actor Rayshun Lamarr, who is a current competitor on The Voice. While some classic pieces from Signature Theatre and Shakespeare Theatre Company took home awards, the theme of the night seemed to be the raising up of the minorities. As is sung in In The Heights, "Alabanza", indeed...
The musical that introduced the world at large to Lin-Manuel Miranda ruled the night, taking home both the Helen and the Hayes awards for Best Musical, thanks to slightly staggered presentations of In The Heights at GALA Hispanic Theatre and a co-production by Olney Theatre Center and Round House Theatre. Both productions were touted during their run with sold out houses and featured work recognized at this year's awards. Recipients included Laura Lebrón, Luis Salgado, Christopher Annas-Lee, Walter "Bobby" McCoy, Félix Marchany, and Rayanne Gonzales, who acknowledged in her acceptance speech that her work was built on the shoulder of other strong women who left their islands behind. Accepting the Oustanding Ensemble Helen, a GALA Heightscast member exclaimed, "This is what America looks like!"