A year or so ago, the nominating process for the Helen Hayes Awards was redesigned, in hopes of allowing the smaller budgeted theatres a fairer share of the nominations. That hasn't seemed to help much this year, in which the heavy hitters clearly dominate the proceedings. There is already debate on DC's premiere theatre blog regarding the choices this year, which happens every year and is healthy and fun. Other bloggers have joined the fray, and that's healthy, too.
There seems general consensus that Studio's Fat Pig was the biggest shut-out, no pun intended. The Hayes folks have also acknowledged a huge error in allowing Woolly's Faculty Room to be nominated as a new play, which would be a big surprise to the Humana Festival, which premiered the show in 2003. However, the Haysies have only rectified half of the problem by removing it from consideration. Surely there is another new play which should have been nominated in its place? To my shame, I am not an avid attender of New Plays, but two I did attend this year seem naturals: Monkeyboy at Charter and Nevermore at Signature.
I would like to have seen Andrew Long's performance as Henry Higgins at Signature get some recognition, for it was an engrossing take on a role which we all have preconceptions about. (Pet Peeve time: Long is clearly an Actor Who Sings, rather than a Singer Who Acts, and that may be why his turns as Higgins and as Fagin at Olney were hailed as terrific performances, but ignored at awards time. Too many people believe that, if the notes are not beautifully sung in a legit style, it is not a valid Musical Performance. I have fought this mindset throughout my career, with only marginal success. But I digress...)
I am sorry that both Christine Baranski and Harriet Harris were overlooked for their work in Mame, a production which suffered from insufficient rehearsal before the critics arrived, sinking its chances of a New York transfer, and probably sinking its chances for Hayes nominations, too.
For those who WERE nominated, I say yea and bravo to Stephanie Burden's bookish Helena in the Folger Midsummer, and the multiple nods to Round House's Prayer for Owen Meany including its leading actor, Matthew Detmer. I also applaud Karl Miller's nod as Rep Stage's Hamlet and Caitlin O'Connell's as the wife in The Shakespeare Theatre Company's Enemy of the People. However, I have to admit I found that production on the whole to be stagy and unconvincing, and I am perplexed by the nominations of most of the cast.
Speaking of being perplexed, Ralph Cosham must be the Ellen Burstyn of this year's Hayes nominees, as his role in Midsummer is equivalent to her 12 second performance in Mrs. Harris, for which she was nominated for an Emmy. There is no better proof that judges nominate names they recognize more often than performances that excel.
Speaking of performances that excel, I loved Sherri Edelen's Kost in Arena's Cabaret, and J. Fred Shiffman's Ernst, too. Fred was a hoot in She Loves Me as well, but I would have liked to see Bobby Smith's understated work in Studio's Caroline, or Change in this category.
I'm sure there will be more debate as the Big Night nears. I am not yet sure I will be in attendance to cheer the winners, as I'll be in tech at Washington Stage Guild that week, but I'll surely be there in spirit...