Critical Confabulations

a theatre, film & pop culture review

2013 Tony Awards Predictions: Best Lighting Design of a Musical

Note: My personal rankings are listed in order from best to worst, with #1 being my favorite, while predictions for the actual winners will be in orange.

BEST LIGHTING DESIGN FOR A MUSICAL

matilda-the-musical-library-photo

1. MATILDA THE MUSICAL
Hugh Vanstone

2. KINKY BOOTS
Kenneth Posner

3. PIPPIN
Kenneth Posner

4. RODGERS + HAMMERSTEIN’S CINDERELLA
Kenneth Posner

Should be here: Ken Billington, Chaplin

With three shows representing his work on Broadway this season — and one show off, the Public’s Giant — Kenneth Posner is a ubiquitous presence in New York theatre. The hardworking Posner has designed some of Broadway’s biggest hits (Wicked, Hairspray) and some of its biggest misses (Lestat, The Pirate Queen — oh, how I wish I had seen them!), but despite seven previous nominations, he’s only had one win (The Coast of Utopia [Part 2 – Shipwreck]). So it seems the odds are largely in Posner’s favor, with his garnering three of the four nominations in this year’s musical category.

Posner’s work on Kinky Boots is just as flashy, colorful and fun as the show itself, accentuating the over-the-top-ness of the boots — and the boot-wearers themselves. Likewise, his Pippin is as colorful as its circus theme necessitates, though it’s rather too literal at times, matching the lyrics (“Blood is red at sunset…” – red light; “He wanted some place warm and green…” – green light). But there are some stunning stylized moments with dancers, lit from behind and silhouetted in characteristically Fosse poses. With Cinderella, the lighting seems mostly perfunctory, spotlighting Ella whenever she’s atop a staircase or singing in her “own little corner.” His efforts nicely concealed William Ivey Long’s crafty costume quick-changes, but surely this nomination slot should have gone to Ken Billington for his strikingly monochromatic looks for Chaplin.

Even if his multiple nominations don’t work against him and the Posner fans rally behind favorites Pippin or Kinky Boots, it’s still unlikely Posner’ll take home his second Tony. If only his sole competition wasn’t in that scrappy little piece of beloved snark, Matilda The Musical. Rob Howell’s scrabble-tile explosion of a set is playfully and colorfully lit by Hugh Vanstone, melding together to create the visual equivalent of Dahl’s uncontained creative genius spewing forth onto the stage of the Shubert Theatre. When Matilda’s imagination runs wild, so does the lighting: swirls of purples and reds envelop the stage dramatically during the heightened moments of her tales of the Escapologist and the Acrobat, imaginatively told through beautifully-conceived shadow puppets; when the children arrive at school — i.e. Crunchem Hall — the stage darkens ominously, broken by ghostly wisps of white and blue light; and when the children become “revolting,” stomping and thrashing, the lights pulse and shudder in accord. Vanstone’s work, more than any of Posner’s, brilliantly captures the essence of the work: the childish mood swings and exuberant imagination. This is his award to lose.

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