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Signature Scores Again With 18 Nominations

Helen Hayes nominations are the most the company has had in one year.

Signature Theatre’s last full year in its 136-seat theater- a former chrome plating plant on South Four Mile Run- featured work that has drawn the most nominations for the Helen Hayes Awards in the company’s fifteen year history. The company is slated to move into a new two-theater space in Shirlington later this year.

There were 18 nominations for work at Signature among the nominations announced for calendar year 2005 productions by the Helen Hayes Awards organization which recognizes outstanding work in professional theater in the Washington, Maryland and Virginia metropolitan area.

This brought the number of nominations Signature has received to a grand total of 209, of which they have won 42. Signature’s 18 placed it one nomination behind the company garnering the highest, the Shakespeare Theatre Company which had 19. Only three other companies have more than ten each, Arena Stage and Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company in Washington and Round House Theatre in Bethesda.

All of the nominations for Signature came for work in two of the company’s five productions this year, both of them musicals. “Urinetown” was a musical comedy built on a concept its authors thought too outlandish to be a successful musical: a town where private toilets have been outlawed and an evil corporation has a monopoly on “public amenities.” It was a hit on Broadway and a hit here last summer under the direction of Joe Calarco. “Pacific Overtures” was Signature’s Artistic Director Eric Schaeffer’s twelfth Stephen Sondheim show, a musical treatment of the conflict of cultures when western powers attempted to open Japan to foreign trading.

The nominations for Signature were in eleven categories so many Signature artists are in the running against each other. There is even one in the running against himself. Will Gartshore was nominated for Outstanding Performance by a Leading Actor in a Musical for his work in “Pacific Overtures” and also for “Urinetown.”

“Urinetown” and “Pacific Overtures” were also was nominated for Outstanding Musical and their directors, Joe Calarco in the case of “Urinetown” and Eric Schaeffer for “Pacific Overtures” were nominated for Outstanding Direction of a Musical. Their musical directors are also in the running in the same category. They are Jon Kalbfleisch for “Pacific Overtures” and Jay Crowder for “Urinetown.”

THE CATEGORY Outstanding Performance by a Supporting Actor in a Resident Musical saw nominations for three of Signature’s performers, Harry A. Winter for “Pacific Overtures” and Christopher Block and Stephen F. Schmidt for “Urinetown.” Jenna Sokolowski was nominated for her supporting role in “Urinetown.”

Signature co-founder Donna Migliaccio was nominated for Outstanding Leading Actress in a Musical for her role in “Pacific Overtures.” She handled the central role of the Recitor and also that of the Shogun and even the Emperor Meiji.

There were also nominations for “Urinetown” for the choreography by Karma Camp, the lighting design by Chris Lee, the set design of James Kronzer and the costume design by Anne Kennedy. In all, Urinetown’s 12 nominations made it the most nominated show this year, far ahead of the Shakespeare Theatre Company’s “Othello” (8) and Arena Stage’s “Damn Yankees” (7).

Signature isn’t the only company to be recognized for work in Arlington. Actress Lindsay Allen, who has made quite an impression in productions at a number of smaller theaters in the area (Rorschach Theatre, Open Circle, Longacre Lea and others) drew critical acclaim and a nomination for Outstanding Supporting Actress for her work in a beautiful and highly stylized production of a British play which just made it under the wire for consideration for this year’s awards when it opened December 28 at the Clark Street Playhouse just north of Crystal City.

The strangely titled play was “An Experiment With An Airpump” which flashed between two time periods, 1799 and 1999, in examining issues surrounding scientific progress. It was produced by the new small theater troupe, Journeymen Theatre Ensemble, now in just its second year. Allen portrayed a poor servant girl with physical deformities in a performance that was vivid but properly proportioned to support the entire ensemble.

THE AMERICAN CENTURY THEATER’s revival of a revival earned a nomination for its sound designer. The production was of the play “Moby Dick Rehearsed” which had been produced by the same theater shortly after its founding in the mid 1990s. Taking up the piece again, director Jack Marshall did wonders creating the feel of the deck of Captain Ahab’s ship, the Piquod, in the small space of Theatre II in the Gunston Arts Center. Part of the reason for that was the almost ever present sound of creaking decks and straining ropes in Dan Murphy’s sound design.

In addition, two nominations went to Irina Tsikurishvili of Synetic Theatre which has recently re-located into Arlington with an administrative merger with Classika Theatre in Shirlington. They frequently perform at the Rosslyn Spectrum. Both nominations are in the category of Outstanding Choreography. Tsikurishvili has been a constant feature in this category ever since her first nomination in 1999. Since then she has been nominated every year and has won five times. This year, her two nominations are for choreography of “Dracula” and “Jason and the Argonauts.”

The awards will be presented in a gala ceremony which the Helen Hayes Awards Organization styles “Washington’s greatest cast party.” This year it will be at the Warner Theatre in Washington on April 17.