Musical's win follows change in Hayes judging rules

WASHINGTON — Arena Stage was the big winner at the 20th annual Helen Hayes Awards May 10, reaping eight honors including four for the musical “Crowns,” Regina Taylor’s gospel-infused vignettes about African-American women.

“Crowns” was tapped best resident musical over six other shows, including three from Arlington, Va.’s Signature Theater.

The boffo showing by Arena Stage, this area’s oldest and most prestigious resident theater, follows a change in the Hayes judging rules. The rules had been criticized for favoring the area’s sizeable crop of low-budget theaters over more established companies.

Arena’s production of Ken Ludwig’s “Shakespeare in Hollywood” won the Charles MacArthur Award for a new play, one of three awards for the farce (Everett Quinton and Emily Donahoe won supporting actor and actress honors).

Arena’s production of “Camelot” drew costume design honors for Paul Tazewell. “Crowns” was also honored for Taylor’s direction, William F. Hubbard’s musical direction and Lynda Gravatt’s performance.

“Crowns” is a winner for Arena in other respects too. It has been the most successful show ever produced in Arena’s 500-seat Kreeger Theater, playing to packed houses during its extended run last fall.

The ceremony was also successful for Silver Spring, Md.’s Roundhouse Theater and its production of “The Drawer Boy.” The Michael Healey play drew six nominations and won three awards including best resident play.

Lead actor awards went to Tom McKenzie for “Ragtime” at Toby’s Dinner Theater in Columbia, Md.; Jacquelyn Piro for the musical, “110 in the Shade” at Signature Theater; Ted van Griethuysen for “The Life of Galileo” at the Studio Theater, tying with Bruce Nelson for “The Dazzle” at Rep Stage; and Nancy Robinette for “The Rivals” at the Shakespeare Theater.

Among touring productions, “Chicago” at the National Theater and “Lackawanna Blues” at the Studio tied for best production. Ruben Santiago-Hudson was named best lead actor for “Lackawanna” and Patti Mariano won supporting performer honors for “42nd Street” at the National.

The awards presentation at the Kennedy Center’s Opera House was staged by Signature Theater a.d. Eric Schaeffer, who threw out convention for a fast-paced affair.

The Washington Post’s award for innovative leadership in the theater community was presented to Betti Brown, founding executive director of the Helen Hayes Awards.

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