Review: Laura Benanti Cabaret debut reveals a performer who’s a complete package

Posted by admin on June 9, 2014

By Tom Alvarez, Indianapolis Performing Arts Examiner
June 9, 2014

Laura Benanti not only possesses a pristine-sounding soprano instrument and an exhaustive vocal range—she’s quirky, witty, bright and if that were not enough, she also has the looks of a model. A Tony Award winner, Benanti appeared Friday, for the first of a three day run of “Laura Benanti: In Constant Search of the Right Kind of Attention” at the Cabaret at the Columbia Club in downtown Indianapolis.

Benanti, who won a 2008 Tony for her role as Louise in “Gypsy” as well as received Tony nominations for her roles in “Into the Woods” and “Swing,” has an enviable list of Broadway credits. Most recently, she also impressed television audiences as Baroness Elsa Schräder in NBC’s “The Sound of Music Live.”

“Laura Benanti: In Constant Search of the Right Kind of Attention: Live at 54 Below” is the title of her 2013 album which nearly all of the content of her show—a mix of pop, classic, Broadway and original songs—was drawn from. Accompanying Benanti on piano was Todd Almond, her music director and arranger who is also composer/lyricist/playwright and singer who collaborated with her on the CD and is a noted performer in his own right.

Central to Benanti’s charming sense of humor was the self-deprecation which she manifested throughout her show (much of which can be heard verbatim on her album). Out of sync with her contemporaries due to her obsession with musical theatre, Benanti talked about how she felt like a “gay man trapped in a little girl’s body” because she knew all of Sondheim’s musical scores by heart. She even cried on the school bus because her classmates didn’t know who Rosemary Clooney was. Benanti also described how one year she went trick or treating as Fosca, a morose character in the Sondheim musical “Passion,” which is about a homely woman obsessed with a handsome soldier and who dies soon after she manages to finally sleep with him.

Benanti opened her show with Jerome Kern and Johnny Mercer’s romantic “I’m Old Fashioned” followed by a breezy rendition of Lerner & Loewe’s “On the Street Where You Live” from “My Fair Lady.”

Showing her versatility, not to mention ease at rendering eclectic material, Benanti also stunningly interpreted Joni Mitchell’s “He Comes for Conversation,” singing in a tone reminiscent of that of the Canadian singer/songwriter’s.

Almond’s songwriting talents and appealing voice were showcased when he and Benanti sang a few of his intimate compositions (with lyrics by Sarah Ruhl) such as “Tilly’s Aria” and “Frank and Tilly Make Love.”

Benanti reinforced that she does not take herself too seriously when she performed, complete with choreography, what she described as an “Inappropriate Medley,” which consisted of such songs as Beyoncé’s “Single Ladies,” “Old Man River,” “Hey Joe,” “The Thong Song,” “Rolling on the River” and “Baby Got Back.”

“Ukulele Song,” which she wrote when she was a young girl, further displayed Benanti’s ability to endear herself to an audience with whom she clearly connected with as she played the instrument commonly associated with the music of Hawaii.

That strong connection began early in the show when she was singing a lovely duet with Almond of Ellie Goulding’s “Starry Eyed.” Near the beginning of the song, some patrons in rear of the room could be heard hushing a group of people talking during Benanti’s performance. Hearing the commotion, Benanti stopped the show to call out the offending party, saying “how would you like it if I came to your job and talked?” After joking that she is “known for admonishing audience members,” Benanti started the song again to the applause of an appreciative and supportive audience. For either performer or audience member who has had to endure inconsiderate interruptions, be they talking or texting, during a show, Benanti’s actions were welcomed.

Bananti closed her show with “Model Behavior,” the show stopping number from “Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown,” which she starred in and for which she won yet another Tony nomination.

During the most beautifully staged encores ever witnessed by this writer during five seasons of covering the Cabaret, Benanti demonstrated operatic opulence while singing “All Things Bow.” It’s an aria she performed when she played the Goddess in Todd Almond’s 2013 NYC Public Theater musical adaptation of “The Tempest.” Beginning on stage, she continued to sing as she walked through the audience until stopping at the rear of the room, after which she turned towards the audience to complete the song, prior to exiting the room with a flourish. It was a grand conclusion to a stylish evening of stellar artistry and entertainment.

Click here to read the full review.


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