WASHINGTON – The Kennedy Center’s Sondheim Celebration was a predictable winner May 5 at D.C. theater’s Helen Hayes Awards. But the annual kudofest also served as the surprise unveiling of the Synetic Theater, a fledgling operation most Washingtonians had never heard of.
Last summer’s festival of six Sondheim musicals in repertory received five awards, including best resident musical for “Sweeney Todd,” one of four honors for the show including best actress for Christine Baranski’s Mrs. Lovett.
“Sunday in the Park With George” netted a musical direction honor for Rob Berman. (Most of the Sondheim shows did not meet the 16-performance minimum for Hayes consideration.)
Synetic, a tiny subsidiary of the Stanislavsky Studio Theater that specializes in movement-based productions, received three awards for its 90-minute silent version of “Hamlet.” It was voted outstanding resident play while director and choreography prizes went to a.d. Paata Tsikurishvili and his wife, Irina.
Depending on one’s perspective, the success of the mighty Kennedy Center and the minuscule Synetic illustrates either the admirable variety of entertainment on D.C. stages or an urgent need to separate large and small operations when recognizing excellence here.
The awards, in their 19th year, considered the works of more than 70 professional theaters under a voting system devised when there were just 14. The awards society agreed to modify the cumbersome balloting system beginning this year, but rejected requests to separate large and small theaters.
Presented at the Kennedy Center’s Concert Hall, the Hayes awards were broadly distributed among a crowded pack of productions. Round House Theater received the Charles MacArthur Award for new play for Ernie Joselovitz’s “Shakespeare, Moses and Joe Papp,” while Arena Stage’s inventive production of Zora Neale Hurston’s long-lost “Polk County” won the MacArthur award as new musical. “Lypsinka! The Boxed Set” at Studio Theater won as nonresident production.
Among performers, Rick Hammerly won lead actor in a musical for Signature Theater’s “Hedwig and the Angry Inch,” while John Cohn took same award for a play for “The Taste of Fire” at Charter Theater. Other honorees were Nancy Robinette in Shakespeare Theater’s “The Little Foxes,” Holly Twyford for the Studio Theater’s “The Shape of Things” and Michael Ray Escamilla for Craig Wright’s gripping “Recent Tragic Events” at Woolly Mammoth.
Brian Stokes Mitchell was on hand to receive an award for his perf in pre-Broadway “Man of La Mancha” at the National Theater.
Resident musical: “Sweeney Todd,” Kennedy Center
Resident play: “Hamlet,” Synetic Theater
Nonresident production: “Lypsinka! The Boxed Set,” Studio Theater
Director, resident musical: (tie) Christopher Ashley, “Sweeney Todd,” Kennedy Center; Toby Orenstein, “Jekyll & Hyde: The Musical,” Toby’s Dinner Theater
Director, resident play: Paata Tsikurishvili, “Hamlet,” Synetic Theater.
Lead actor, resident musical: Rick Hammerly, “Hedwig and the Angry Inch,” Signature Theater
Lead actress, resident musical: Christine Baranski, “Sweeney Todd,” Kennedy Center
Lead actor, resident play: Jon Cohn, “The Taste of Fire,” Charter Theater
Lead actress, resident play: Holly Twyford, “The Shape of Things,” Studio Theater
Lead actor, nonresident production: Brian Stokes Mitchell, “Man of La Mancha,” National Theater
Lead actress, nonresident production: Sarah Jones, “Surface Transit,” Woolly Mammoth Theater Co.
Supporting actor, resident musical: Ted L. Levy, “Hot Mikado,” Ford’s Theater
Supporting actress, resident musical: Lori Tan Chinn, “South Pacific,” Arena Stage
Supporting actor, resident play: Michael Ray Escamilla, “Recent Tragic Events,” Woolly Mammoth Theater Co.
Supporting actress, resident play: Nancy Robinette, “The Little Foxes,” Shakespeare Theater
Supporting performer, nonresident production: Kelli Fournier, “Aida,” Kennedy Center.
Sound design, resident production: Mark K. Anduss, “Tiny Alice,” Washington Shakespeare Co.
Costume design, resident production: Jelena Vukmirovic and Marie Schneggenburger, “Mississippi Pinocchio,” Theater of the First Amendment
Lighting design, resident production: Howell Binkley, “Sweeney Todd,” Kennedy Center
Set design, resident production: (tie) James Kronzer, “Shakespeare, Moses and Joe Papp,” Round House Theater; Hugh Landwehr, “The Little Foxes,” Shakespeare Theater
Musical direction, resident production: Rob Berman, “Sunday in the Park With George,” Kennedy Center
Choreography, resident production: Irina Tsikurishvili, “Hamlet,” Synetic Theater
Charles MacArthur Award for new musical: “Polk County,” by Zora Neale Hurston and Dorothy Waring, adapted by Kyle Donnelly and Cathy Madison, music composed, adapted and directed by Stephen Wade, Arena Stage
Charles MacArthur Award for new play: “Shakespeare, Moses and Joe Papp,” by Ernie Joselovitz, Round House Theater