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5 Great Moments From the 2024 Helen Hayes Awards

More than a thousand people attended the local theater awards show Monday night.

The four local actors who hosted the 2024 Helen Hayes Awards: Felicia Curry, Rayanne Gonzales. Holly Twyford, and Maria Rizzo. Photograph by Shannon Finney, courtesy of Theatre Washington.

The annual Helen Hayes Awards can feel like a localized version of the Tony Awards—this year they boasted four hosts, a jazzy live band, and an opening number full of DC-themed parodies of songs from Broadway favorites like Sweeney Todd and In the Heights. More than a thousand well-dressed performers and theater-lovers packed into the Anthem Monday night for the ceremony, which host TheatreWashington puts on to honor local theater, with 151 nominated productions across 41 categories. Here were some of the highlights:

Seussical won big

The awards split each category into two: “Helen” awards go to productions with a majority of actors who aren’t members of the Actors’ Equity Association union, while “Hayes” awards go to big-budget shows with a majority of Equity performers. Keegan Theatre took home six Helen trophies for its production of Seussical: The Musical, the biggest winner of the night. In their acceptance speech for Outstanding Musical, the director-choreographer team of Kurt Boehm and Ashleigh King said, “Keegan and Seussical are both about two things: family and community.”

The “Fela!” team runs on stage to accept the award for Outstanding Musical. Photograph by Shannon Finney, courtesy of Theatre Washington.

Fela! celebrated five wins

Among the “Hayes” awards winners, this revival of a 2008 Fela Kuti jukebox musical from Olney Theater Center and Round House Theatre came out on top. In her acceptance speech for Outstanding Director, Lili-Anne Brown spoke about how difficult it was to get the show off the ground in other cities, and urged the audience to “make art that challenges.” After the show won Outstanding Musical, the ensemble jumped and danced across the stage.

Peter Marks got a lifetime achievement award

This year’s lifetime achievement award (which has gone to Angela Lansbury and Stephen Sondheim in the past) went to former Washington Post theater critic Peter Marks, who left his post earlier this year after over two decades. In his acceptance speech, Marks joked  that “no one has ever uttered the phrase ‘beloved theater critic’ before.”

Melody A. Betts accepts one of two awards she took home last night, for Outstanding Performer in a Visiting Production and Outstanding Supporting Performer in a Musical.

Melody A. Betts brought down the house

Another major figure of the night was the DC-born actress, in town on a day off from performing in a newly opened revival of  The Wiz on Broadway. Betts accepted two Hayes trophies and, toward the end of the ceremony, performed the high-power song “Don’t Nobody Bring Me No Bad News.”

The winners made the most of their short speeches

Many recipients made the most of their two-minute-long speeches by sharing personal anecdotes that they connected to political issues and their work. Actor Justin Weaks, for instance, talked about his personal journey with HIV during his acceptance speech for his supporting actor win for Angels in America, Part One: Millennium Approaches. “This is what HIV looks like in 2024,” Weaks said to a roar of applause.

Omega Ilijevich
Editorial Fellow