Tuners of Loesser, Hammerstein honored in D.C.

This article was updated at 7:03 p.m.

WASHINGTON — Two daring productions of “lost” musicals — Frank Loesser’s “Senor Discretion Himself” and a reworking of the 1947 Rodgers & Hammerstein show “Allegro” — were honored Monday during the 21st annual Helen Hayes Awards, D.C.’s salute to excellence in area professional theater.

Judges declared a tie in the resident musical category between two of the season’s highest-profile shows, Arena Stage’s production of Loesser’s previously unproduced “Discretion,” a lengthy project undertaken by the writer’s widow, Jo Sullivan Loesser, and Signature Theater’s massively scaled-back version of “Allegro,” a project pursued by Dena Hammerstein, widow of Oscar Hammerstein II’s son, James.

Other key winners included Craig Wright’s “Melissa Arctic,” an inventive adaptation of Shakespeare’s “The Winter’s Tale” produced by the Folger Theater. It won the Charles MacArthur Award for new play or musical, besting Wright’s own “Grace” at Woolly Mammoth Theater Company and “Senor Discretion,” among others.

The season’s top resident play was the Shakespeare Theater’s production of “Cyrano,” a new adaptation of the Edmond Rostand play that also drew director honors for Michael Kahn and lead actor recognition for Geraint Wyn Davies, a late replacement for Stacey Keach. The play’s set designer, James Noone, was honored in a tie with James Kronzer, designer of Round House Theater’s “Diary of Anne Frank.”

“Cyrano” topped the Shakespeare Theater’s production of “Pericles,” Woolly’s outrageous “Lenny & Lou” by Ian Cohen and the Kennedy Center’s production of “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof,” part of its Tennessee Williams retrospective.

It was a good evening for Signature Theater, which snared five awards, including one for a.d. Eric Schaeffer’s direction of “Allegro” and another for Gregg Barnes’ costume design for the musical. Signature’s production of new John LaChiusa tuner “The Highest Yellow” won for lead musical actor (Jason Danieley) and direction (Jon Kalbfleisch).

Schaeffer praised the Hayes judges’ recognition of riskier new works, which also included a musical nomination for Signature’s “One Red Flower,” based on letters home from Vietnam. But he noted that several quality plays, such as Arena’s production of Williams’ “Orpheus Descending,” were overlooked.

Among performers, Gin Hammond drew the resident play actress nod for the Studio Theater’s powerful “The Syringa Tree,” while Bernardine Mitchell took top resident musical actress for the MetroStage production of “Mahalia, a Gospel Musical.”

Supporting performer awards in resident plays went to Holly Twyford for the Folger Theater’s “Two Gentlemen of Verona” and David Toney for the African Continuum Theater Company’s “Two Trains Running” by August Wilson. Resident musical supporters were David James (“Godspell” at Toby’s Dinner Theater) and Ann Duquesnay (Arena’s “Hallelujah, Baby!”).

The nod for top nonresident production went to “The Producers” at the Kennedy Center, and Lee Roy Reams took supporting actor for that show. “Movin’ Out” at the National Theater drew lead actor kudos for both Ron Todorowski and Holly Cruikshank. Todorowski topped a sensitive performance by James Earl Jones in the Kennedy Center’s “On Golden Pond.”

Walking home empty-handed was D.C.’s tiny Theater Alliance, which received 10 nominations, including for production, Stephen Massicotte’s “Mary’s Wedding.”

Other highlights included a tribute to composer Jerry Herman, who was on hand to both accept and entertain. Local arts supporter Sidney Harman received the KPMG Award for Distinguished Service, and Studio Theater a.d. Joy Zinoman received the Washington Post Award for Innovative Leadership, savoring the occasion with some directorial suggestions concerning the Post’s arts coverage.

Emcee E. Faye Butler kept the proceedings light and fast-paced, while writer Norman Allen had several humorous surprises for D.C.’s close-knit theater community.

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