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San Francisco by Richard Connema

Tony Award Winner Laura Benanti at the Venetian Room

Also see Richard's review of Play/Endgame and Six Plays at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival

Laura Benanti
Laura Benanti
The Bay Area Cabaret closed its 2011-2012 season with Tony Award winning actress/singer Laura Benanti, making her San Francisco debut May 12th at the Venetian Room of the The Fairmont Hotel. This was an evening revealing her wacky and wonderful personality in song selections, elucidations and patter. The 80-minute set was highly personal and frisky.

Opening the evening was the charismatic and talented 2011 "Bay Area Teen Idol" winner Bobby Conte Thornton, a nineteen-year-old who is currently pursuing his MFA at the University of Michigan. He sang a haunting arrangement of "Something's Coming" from West Side Story and then segued into a swinging version of "Me and Mrs. Jones." This young man not only has vibrant vocal cords but is extremely dramatic in all of his presentations. This was particularly evident when he sang the moving rendition of Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah."

After a brief intermission, Laura Benanti opened her portion of the show with a stimulating version of Stephen Sondheim's "Broadway Baby." She informed the sold out crowd that she had loved Sondheim's music since she was age 5 and knew the complete score of Follies at age 11. She went into a series of Sondheim songs that included "So Many People" from Saturday Night, "Loving You" from Passion, and "I Know Things Now" from Into the Woods. She told the audience that she played Cinderella at age 15, and the same role on Broadway six years later.

Ms. Benanti recalled being a 9-year-old music nut who cried when classmates didn't know who Rosemary Clooney was. She described herself during that period as "a 45-year-old gay man in a little girl's body." She proved that she could swing with songs like "Alright, OK, You Win" and an appealing delivery of "Skylark." She ingeniously combined "I Could Have Danced all Night" from My Fair Lady and "If I Were a Bell" from Guys and Dolls, which was fluidly executed.

This consummate artist's tone went from a haunting rendition of "Unusual Way" from Nine to "Old Man River" and a rocking "I've Got You Babe" to a little ukulele number she wrote herself. She was captivating with her version of "The Hills are Alive" from Sound of Music, and she closed the show with a wishful interpretation of Harry Chapin's ""Mr. Tanner" and "Something Good."

- Richard Connema



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