For his lighting design of the Broadway musicals "Kinky Boots," "Pippin" and "Rodgers & Hammerstein's Cinderella," Eastchester native Ken Posner has snagged three of that category's four Tony Award nominations.
But, despite winning a Tony in 2007 for his work on "The Coast of Utopia," the Purchase College grad told Newsday Westchester he's not banking on a win this Sunday night, when CBS will broadcast the ceremony from Radio City Music Hall.
"I'm told, mathematically, I can't win because I'm going to split my vote three ways," he said while sitting in the balcony of the Al Hirschfeld Theatre, where "Kinky Boots" stockpiled its season-leading 13 nominations. "But I'm certainly hopeful that those cynics will be proven wrong and that the voters will vote for me for one of the three shows that I've been nominated for. If not, I mean, just being nominated in the same category three times is such an amazing thing. My cup runneth over."
The numbers game even shocked "Modern Family" star Jesse Tyler Ferguson on April 30, when he joined Tony winner Sutton Foster in revealing this year's nominations at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts. After reading Posner's name three times in a row, Ferguson finally announced Hugh Vanstone, "Matilda's" lighting designer, as the fourth nominee. "Good luck, Hugh," added Ferguson, prompting laughs from Foster and others in attendance.
Posner said he considers Vanstone a "very good friend," and added that "Matilda" is "beautifully designed in all the disciplines." It's one of the reasons he's just going to try to enjoy Sunday's ceremony unto itself.
"If I win, great," Posner added. "And if I don't win, as my 13-year-old daughter pointed out to me, 'Dad, you'll just go from being a six-time Tony loser to a nine-time Tony loser, all in the same night.' It didn't make me feel better, by the way."
At least when Posner was nominated last year for his work on the play "Other Desert Cities," he lost the category to another good buddy in fellow Purchase College grad Jeff Croiter, who won for "Peter and the Starcatcher." The two became childhood friends in Eastchester, where Croiter's father ran the lighting board for a local production of "Guys and Dolls."
"Jeff and I sort of have the same trajectory," Posner said. "Jeff was my assistant for a few years, and you know, I couldn't be happier or prouder for Jeff. We're, to this day, very close friends."
Last year, Posner and Croiter were two of three Purchase alumni up for the Tony for lighting design of a play; the other was one of their mentors, five-time Tony winner Brian MacDevitt, up in 2012 for "Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman." And all three trained at Purchase under the same professor, the late Bill Mintzer.
"I think, secretly, he really wanted to be a director," Posner said. "It was a fascinating way to learn lighting design, because it was always about reading the play, analyzing the text, asking the questions, 'What's this play about? Why are we doing this play? Who are these characters? What is the character's journey? How does light play a role?'"
Posner poses those questions to himself every time he takes on a new show, whether it's the Cyndi Lauper-scored "Kinky Boots," about a struggling factory that finds new life in fetish footwear; "Pippin," about a prince on his journey toward greater meaning; or "Cinderella," about the fairy-tale princess, as interpreted by Broadway legends Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II.
"I feel very lucky, because they couldn't be more different or diverse projects," Posner said. "It was really an amazing opportunity to just travel to these three worlds."
Even with awards hanging in the balance, he insists lighting designers aren't cutthroat.
"In the world of lighting, it's just a fraternity," he said. "Are we competitive? Yes, mildly. Do we have egos? Of course we do. But at the end of the day, we really hold each other in high regard, talk to each other, exchange ideas, and we share experiences. And I'm not sure that's true of all the other disciplines in theater, but it's definitely true in the lighting design world."
One reason they all get along, he said, is the love of their craft.
"We're primary a storyteller, and we respond to the author's text, or a composer's score, and we're inspired by a director's vision," he added. "It's very much an artistic job. My colleagues and I, we paint pictures with light."
"Kinky Boots" is playing at the Al Hirschfeld Theatre; for more information, visit www.kinkybootsthemusical.com. "Pippin" is playing at the Music Box Theatre; for more information, visit www.pippinthemusical.com. "Rodgers & Hammerstein's Cinderella" is playing at the Broadway Theatre; for more information, visit www.cinderellaonbroadway.com.