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DC Theater’s Biggest Night Returns With the Helen Hayes Awards

The event will be held in person on Monday, May 22, for the first time since the pandemic.

A scene from the Helen Hayes Awards in 2014. Photograph by Robert Merhaut/Flickr.

The Helen Hayes Awards—the DC theater community’s biggest night out—is back with an in-person ceremony for the first time since the pandemic. The awards show will be held at the Anthem on Monday, May 22.

The event celebrates musicals, plays, and world premieres from the 2022 season. Forty-one awards will be given out, divided between “Helen” and “Hayes” categories: Productions with majority non-union casts are nominated for Helen awards, while productions with majority union casts are nominated for Hayes awards.

Who was Helen Hayes?

Called the “First Lady of American Theatre,” Hayes was a star on the stage. She was born in DC in 1900 and began performing when she was only five years old as Prince Charles in The Royal Family. She is most known for her performance as Victoria Regina in Queen Victoria, and the Hayes Theater on Broadway was named after her. She is one of only 18 people to reach EGOT status, having received Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, and Tony awards. The Helen Hayes awards were dedicated to her to “honor achievement and promote excellence in professional theatre in the city of her birth,” according to Theatre Washington. She attended the 1984 inaugural Helen Hayes awards prior to her death in 1992.

What does the event highlight?

“The art of theater is in gathering,” Theatre Washington president and CEO Amy Austin tells Washingtonian. Since the community hasn’t been able to gather for four years, she is excited for about 1,500 community members to come together and celebrate all they’ve accomplished since the pandemic. The event will also honor Bonnie Nelson Schwartz, the founder of the Helen Hayes Awards.

The ceremony highlights productions from 2022, including musicals The Color Purple, She Loves Me, Little Women, and Monty Python’s Spamalot and plays John Proctor Is the Villain, The Hot Wing King, and The Till Trilogy: The Ballad of Emmett Till. Kevin Chamberlain (who played Uncle Fester in The Addams Family musical and has amassed more than 10 million followers on TikTok) is nominated for his performance in Guys and Dolls. Other notable nominees include Phillipa Soo, known for originating Eliza Hamilton in Hamilton, for her role in Guys in Dolls, and American Idol superstar Frenchie Davis for her role in The Color Purple.

Nominees, ensemble members and their guests will be welcomed at 4:30 PM, and the show begins at 5:30 PM. Following the ceremony, the night will end with dancing beginning at 10:30 PM. Other ticket holders will be able to enjoy the show from the balcony with snacks, and join the party downstairs after.

Who will perform?

Six hosts will put on the show. DC powerhouses Naomi Jacobson, Erika Rose, Holly Twyford, and Christopher Michael Richardson will be joined by partners Ryan Spahn and Michael Urie, who is currently in Apple TV+’s Shrinking and performing in the Kennedy Center’s Spamalot until May 21. There will also be performances by Kanysha Williams, who was in American Prophet at Arena Stage, and nominees Frenchie Davis and Solomon Parker III (The Color Purple).

Unlike at the Tony awards, which the Writer’s Guild of America recently agreed not to picket as a part of the ongoing strike, the performances at the Helen Hayes Awards won’t always be from a nominated production. Instead, the show will be about celebrating getting to come back together and share what has been going on. “Some of the music will help us carry those stories,” Austin says.

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Keely recently graduated with her master’s in journalism from American University and has reported on local DC, national politics, and business. She has previously written for The Capitol Forum.