Spotlight on Laura Benanti

by Nancy Rosati        

(part two)

NR:  You didnít grow up on The Sound of Music? Boy, I sure did.

LB:  Itís strange. I think most people my age who wanted to be in the business would know it, but I have this weird dichotomy about me. I want to do this so badly, and I love it, but I just love to do the work. The business side of it eludes me. My boyfriend makes fun of me at times because Iíll say, ďJames something called ... Lapine?Ē and heíll give me an exasperated look. Iím an idiot about stuff like that. Iím not a stupid person - itís just not a part of what I do. I go on stage, I have fun, I sing and then I go home. I donít get the whole business part of it at all.

NR:  (laughing) I hope you have a good agent whoís looking after you.

LB:  I hope so too. Iím silly about that, but Iím going to get better. Thatís my resolution. Iím just going to learn.

NR:  How about your debut? What was that like? Did you just do it, or were you constantly thinking, ďOh, my God, Iím doing my Broadway lead debut!Ē

With Richard Chamberlain in Sound of Music
With Richard Chamberlain in Sound of Music
LB:  Well, it was great to have those two weeks, because I really got it in my bones. After that it was four months before I took over for Rebecca. I donít even remember the first time because I was shaking. All I remember is running down the mountain and the light hitting me. The light was so hot. I had to throw my arms over my head, and they were trembling, just shaking so hard. My legs were too, the whole time, but my mom said she couldnít notice it. She said, ďYou didnít seem nervous at all.Ē When I went off my throat was so dry and my dresser Dana was there and she said, ďOh, it was so good!Ē Everyone was backstage watching it and people were crying, because they had seen me grow up. I had been working with these people for a year and a half. I came in as a little girl. When they saw me grow up I think it was a nice experience for everyone. The people in the Ensemble, the nuns, everyone, just treated me like one of their own. They really helped me grow up in many ways. I moved here when I was eighteen. I was pretty much on my own. Iím very close with my family so I have them, but they really helped me through a lot of stuff.

NR:  What about traveling? Did you tour with the show?

LB:  I didnít travel. I went straight from Sound of Music ... I had two weeks off and then I started on Swing!

Michael Gruber, Laura, Ann Hampton Callaway, Everett Bradley, Casey MacGill in Swing!

NR:  And I hear you got a new song yesterday?

LB:  I did! ďSkylark!Ē

NR:  Tell me about it. How did that go?

LB:  That was another crazy moment. I was so nervous. Originally they said, ďIn two months weíre going to put this inĒ so I thought, ďGreat. Iíll have lots of time to rehearse.Ē Then they changed it to ďtwo weeks,Ē then ďten days,Ē and finally it became ďfour days.Ē They put it in yesterday and now I have four days to see if it fits in the show. Itís just a lovely ballad that goes right after ďBli-Blip.Ē I go out there and I just sing from my heart and then I leave. Itís nice because everything else I do is funny, so itís nice to have a little moment of simplicity in the show. Itís like a little breath, like a little kiss, because everything else in the show is crazy and people are on bungees and jumping around and skatting. Itís just one moment of peace and I really like it. I hope it works out.

NR:  Do you wish you had more of a character to play in this show?

LB:  Thatís an interesting question. I had a hard time in the beginning with the show just because Iím used to book musicals, and my favorite part of this business is acting and the scenes. I really enjoy that so I had to adjust my thinking in terms of the show. I couldnít think of it as, ďI go out and sing my song.Ē Now I really try to embody my character with as much life and energy and activity as I can. So, I really try to go out there and play some scenes, but theyíre vocal scenes. Do you know what I mean? Otherwise I think Iíd go crazy. The next show after this (knock on wood if there is one) I would love to be a book show - just a serious book show. I would love that. Fortunately I keep myself very busy with lots of workshops and readings where I get to quench that thirst.

NR:  Can you tell me something about the workshop of The Royal Family that you just did?

LB:  It was pretty amazing. Jerry Zaks is a wonderful director and a wonderful man. He supervised this show (Swing!) and I got to work with him a little bit, but to see how he handles a book is really quite brilliant. Not a word is left untouched. Heís so specific. Every word is there for a reason. A lot of actors, including myself ... I think itís especially a young actorís trap to generalize the words and make them your own. Itís kind of that method of throwing in a lot of ďumsĒ and ďbutsĒ and it takes away from what you are saying. Heís very much about the action and the objective. Heís just really, really smart.

So, that was great to get to work with him. Itís a wonderful book. Bill Finnís music is absolutely stunningly beautiful. It was just an incredible cast. Carolee Carmello has one of the most exquisite voices Iíve ever heard, and is truly one of the nicest people Iíve ever met.

NR: She is a wonderful actress.

LB:  Oh, yes. She is so solid. She was really an inspiration for me in that way - her acting came first before the singing. The singing was sort of like, ďand I have this really incredible voice too.Ē It was like the cherry on top of this incredible sundae. I love her. Bryan Batt cracks me up! Iíve never laughed so hard. We talked so much in rehearsal that we had to be separated.

NR: (laughing) Youíre kidding!

LB:  We did! The two of us together never stopped talking!

NR:  (laughing) I know you were in high school recently, but he doesnít exactly have that excuse!

LB:  Well, heís very childlike - not childish, but childlike, and I adore him for that reason. And, heís a wonderful actor. He was fierce in that role and he just cracks me up. Then of course, there was Elaine Stritch, who is an icon in musical theater world. It was really interesting to watch.

NR:  Whatís your character like?

LB:  Sheís the daughter of Caroleeís character, whoís Julie Cavendish. I think itís based on the Barrymores, although they deny that. Elaine was my grandmother. My character is nineteen years old, wants to be in theater, finds herself pregnant and then goes to live in New Rochelle with her baby and her husband, and is miserable. She comes back once her grandmother is sick and does another show. Itís basically a passing of the torch from Fanny to Julie to Gwen, which is my character. Sheís an ingenue. Sheís very funny. That was what was exciting about that character. She had some very heartfelt moments but mostly itís very much like a nineteen year old girl.

NR:  I certainly hope itís going to get to Broadway.

LB:  I hope so too. I think theyíre waiting to see if they have the rights for it, but I think itís really great. I really enjoyed it and working with such excellent actors.

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