After every award season, there are tons of people who I believe should have been honored that have not been. People who don't even get nominated. But I'm not going to salute all of them -- by now you've read other "snub" columns -- instead I am going to write about two nominated individuals whom I believe deserved to win Tony Awards over their competition: Tracie Bennett and Hugh Vanstone.
Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role in a Play was a very tough category this year. This may be the first time in my career where I believed all the nominees deserved a Tony Award. Cynthia Nixon was devastating in Wit. Stockard Channing is unquestionably brilliant in Other Desert Cities. (And, though I am not writing about it individually here, I want to give a shout-out to Other Desert Cities, a well-constructed family drama that I recommend.) Linda Lavin, a longtime favorite of mine, is pitch perfect as Rita Lyons, making the audience both love and hate her at once. Nina Arianda, who won the award, was a revelation when I saw Venus in Fur off-Broadway and her performance strengthened during the show's Broadway run. But, if I voted, my vote would have been cast for Tracie Bennett.
Bennett is doing something that is so unbelievably difficult that I almost think she deserved a special Tony. End of the Rainbow is technically a play with music, not a musical, but Bennett is singing more songs than some of the actresses nominated in the musical category. While the Tony broadcast did not showcase her at her best, Bennett's Garland is uncanny. It leaves people floored for good reason. End of the Rainbow is sadly not a great play, which may have hurt Bennett in this race, but I urge everyone to go and see it. Bennett completely transforms herself for the piece. I can't imagine anyone else being as good in it. I am happy she won the Drama Desk, but was hoping she would pick up a Tony as well. She deserved it.
Many of you may have read the first paragraph of this post and promptly googled Hugh Vanstone. Others may know his name or just assumed, rightfully, that I would tell you who he is. Vanstone is the Tony-nominated lighting designer of Ghost, who lost the Tony Award this year to Once's Natasha Katz. Usually I don't feel strongly about the lighting design categories. I think the last time I did was 2001 when Jane Eyre's lighting designers Peggy Eisenhauer and Jules Fisher lost out to Peter Kaczorowski for The Producers. (This time I feel a little better about it because Once, with its mirrored set, was actually tricky to light, unlike The Producers.) Ghost and Jane Eyre were both shows that had unbelievable lighting, they were both shows whose entire stage design revolved around their lighting, and they are both shows that I think not all Tony voters saw. I have heard from a few voters this year that they gave away their Ghost tickets. That is not something that is supposed to happen, but it does happen. I'm not saying that necessarily impacted the end result -- I am sure there were many, many voters who saw both shows and still voted for Katz, who did do an excellent job on Once -- but being involved in a critically-reviled show likely hurt Vanstone.
Neither Bennett nor Vanstone took home Tony Awards for their amazing work, and I suspect this column will serve as little consolation. But, for what it is worth, I salute them. Bennett is giving one of the best performances I've ever seen. Vanstone is helping make the goings on at the Lunt-Fontanne appear otherworldly. They each deserved recognition on Sunday night.
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