For their 30th year of The Helen Hayes Awards, organizers theatreWashington decided to shake things up a bit, moving the awards and after-party from the Warner Theater and JW Marriott to the National Building Museum, combining the awards ceremony and open bar from the start, resulting in a buzzing (and buzzed) room all night.
As for the awards themselves, Signature Theatre won a total of eight, including three for their co-production (with Ford's Theatre) of Hello, Dolly! and Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company's production of Stupid F*cking Bird, who walked in as the most nominated play of the evening, won for Best New Play and Outstanding Resident Play.
But the most talked about thing at the ceremony was the change in format. Breaking the show into three acts and limiting the acceptance speeches to 30 seconds (shorter than the Oscars), the program moved fairly quickly - that is, if you were paying attention. Most of the nominees were roped off in a seated section near the stage and were engaged in the proceedings. Everyone else wandered the hall going from bar to food station to an available couch and occasionally payed attention to the ceremony broadcasted on the screens throughout the hall. This year's Helen Hayes Tribute recipient Victor Shargai received a loving video tribute from Angela Lansbury. However, if you were on the outskirts of the room you could barely hear it or his acceptance speech.
There were some nice, new added touches. For the ladies, when you could stand your heels no longer, you could check in your shoes and, for $5, receive a pair of Helen Hayes slippers. theatreWashington also teamed up with Celebrity Cruises to raffle off a theater cruise to Bermuda to set sail at the end of August (although the cruise ship foghorn that was set off during the evening to announce this caused several patrons near me to clutch their chests).
While the evening, overall, was a success, there's one more thing to note. Given the dimly lit room and the furniture everywhere concept, I witnessed several patrons wipe out on the decor, including one female party-goer that sailed over a clear plastic coffee table like she was a stuntwoman. My tip to the organizers: if you're going to dress up the room, it's important that the guests can actually see what's there.
For a full list of winners and for more information on the 2014 Helen Hayes Awards and theatreWashington, click here.