Spotlight on Laura Benanti

by Nancy Rosati        

(part three)

NR:  Thatís great. I know you know nothing about computers or the Internet, but were you told that Talkiní Broadway readers voted you onto the list of ďStars of the New Millenium?Ē

LB:  Yeah, they told me. That is so nice!

NR:  Hundreds of people took part in the voting.

LB:  I didnít even know that anyone knew who I was at all.

NR:  Of course they do.

LB:  Thatís constantly a surprise to me.

NR:  Well, these are people who are on the Internet and theyíre very familiar with theater, probably more than you would think. They like it and they follow the different performers, not just the ďstars.Ē

LB:  Thatís excellent. That is so nice. It made me really kind of giggle, and smile. It was a very nice surprise, because like I said, the business aspect of it ... I donít know why but that side of my brain just shuts off, and I kind of forget that this is Broadway sometimes.

NR:  (laughing) Oh, thatís a tough problem to have!

LB:  Isnít that strange? I feel no different doing this than I did when I was on stage in high school, maybe because I deluded myself so much that I was on Broadway when I was in high school. But, I just get that same sense of excitement thinking, ďThis is so coolĒ and I forget that itís high profile.

NR:  Maybe thatís why you can do it so well, because youíre not thinking about that?

LB:  Maybe. I donít want to think about it and then start panicking.

NR:  No, you donít want to do that. So, whatís the downside of this? Suppose your friends want to go out on a Friday night, and you canít because you have two shows the next day?

LB:  I think the downside is not really being able to make friends my age. I have one friend, Michael Benjamin Washington, who is in Saturday Night. (not Saturday Night Fever, but Saturday Night) Heís my best friend in the entire world. We met at NYU when I was there for those two weeks.

NR:  (laughing) You did go to college ...

LB:  (laughing) ... for two weeks! I learned everything I needed to know and left! (seriously again) Heís my very best friend and besides the fact that heís a wonderful, wonderful man, he understands that I do need to take care of myself better than most people do. I have a wonderful boyfriend, Erik, whom I love very much, and he understands that too because heís also an actor. Then thereís my family and the cast and my friends from Sound of Music. Everyone I spend my time with, except for Michael and Erik, is older. Thereís not that whole ďLetís go out and partyĒ attitude because they understand. Theyíre doing the same thing as me. That was the thing that, interestingly enough, was frustrating in high school for me, because I always knew what I wanted to do and I always knew the discipline that it would take. So, I was very much of an outsider, which was very hard for me. Itís sad. It gets very lonely. I donít really feel that as much now because people understand more. Itís actually easier now than it was when I was in high school and I wasnít doing it professionally.

NR:  Have there been any surprises, or is this exactly what you expected it to be?

LB:  Oh, interesting ... I think people in general have a tendency to romanticize things. I know I do. I was thinking of everything I had seen in those 80's movies. Remember all of those Broadway 80's movies like Fame and a bunch that showed backstage life? And it is different. Itís not as catty. Thereís not as much drama backstage as I thought there would be, which is very good, and that was nice. Itís more normal than I thought it would be. I feel like I do a job, which happens to be exciting and wonderful and fun, but itís not as scary as I thought it would be. I came into it thinking, ďOh, gosh, this world ... everyoneís going to be scary and itís going to be so scary to go out on stage. How am I going to be able to do eight shows a week? Howís it going to happen?Ē And, it just kind of fits into the rhythm of my life. Itís not easier, but itís a lot more normal and ďacceptable - conducive to mental healthĒ than I thought it would be.

The cast of Swing!

NR: Suppose you get to perform on the Tony Awards? What do you think that would be like? It could happen.

LB:  That would be great.

NR:  Do you think that would be nerve-wracking?

LB:  YES. Oh, yes. When I did Royal Family, Bernadette Peters was literally right in front of me. It was so nerve-wracking because she is my idol. I think that she is just a brilliant, amazing, wonderfully talented, kind woman. I backed up and turned towards the audience to start singing and saw Bernadette Peters directly in front of me. Literally, at that moment, I thought, ďOK. THIS is what I thought it would be.Ē You know what I mean? Thatís the image - that glamour, that performing for such amazing people - that was the moment when I thought, ďThis is what I imagined when I was five years old - but keep going.Ē So, if I do get to perform on the Tonyís, (and who knows) that will be so nerve-wracking.

I get very nervous. Like yesterday, when we put on ďSkylarkĒ I was so nervous. I think itís because (and Jerry gets mad at me for this), but Iím really insecure. I think itís partially because Iím twenty, but Iím always thinking, ďAm I doing OK?Ē

NR:  I donít know if itís just because youíre twenty. If thatís your personality, I donít think that part of it gets easier. I really donít. Iíve heard those same words from people whoíve been doing this a lot longer than you have.

LB:  I think thatís good in a way though, because that means you care.

NR: Thatís true. I think what you have to do is feel the love thatís coming back to you. I have friends who have performed on the Tonyís and they told me that the applause came towards them like a huge wave. Thatís because itís not only icons in the audience, but itís your peers too and they know how you feel. They want to give that back to you.

LB:  Totally. At some point, I would love to perform on the Tonyís, if not for this show then for something else. I think that would be exactly what I always thought it was. Ooh, itís giving me chills just thinking about it.

NR:  So, where do you go from here?

LB:  I donít know.

NR:  Where do you want to go?

Laura, Caitlin Carter, Geralyn Del Corso in Swing!
LB:  I would love to do a book musical. I would love to do another Broadway show. Iíd love to do some plays and Iíd love to do some good films, some independent, good, classy film. Thereís so much teeny-bopper stuff going on right now that Iím just not into it at all. Everything from the music to the TV to film, weíre bombarded with these images of these sixteen year old girls and it leaves out almost the entire population. Iím twenty and I feel like Iím over the hill so I canít imagine how everybody else feels and it makes me kind of angry. I think that I would love to do some really good independent film where women are portrayed as intelligent human beings with a sense of self as opposed to either little kids, or bimbos. Itís like the angel-whore thing. Youíre either perfect or youíre some slut. Iíd like to portray a real woman - a normal woman with a life and a brain, which Iím surrounded by every single day. I donít understand why writers donít write about them because you can walk down the street and find a woman whose life is more interesting than anything weíre seeing on TV right now. So, I would love to do a book musical, and then maybe if it was high profile enough, maybe get some great indy film or something.

NR:  How about L.A.? Does that interest you at all? Would you like to do TV?

LB:  So much of TV right now I just find repulsive - those ďincredible shrinking womenĒ and itís frightening to me. I have a thirteen year old sister and when I turn on the TV, I really get sad. When I watch these award shows, these women are so tiny and so unhealthy and it saddens me what they portray to people and children. Men are taught thatís whatís attractive, and women are taught thatís whatís attractive. Then it becomes this whole thing that comes into our society and itís like a cancer. So, I feel like right now the way L.A. is and the way TV is, I donít want to have anything to do with it - unless I could go in and make a difference. Or, if there was an influx of real women with breasts and brains, who donít look like twelve year old boys who are addicted to crack, then I would love to do that. Itís such an incredible medium that it reaches so many people. That would be a reason why I would like to do it. I think in my lifetime Iíd like to make some sort of difference in how people are seen.

NR:  Let me ask you one more question. You mentioned to me before that you felt different in school because you werenít interested in the same things the other kids were. You were listening to show music and they were watching MTV. I know girls who feel like that now. Do you have any advice for them?

LB:  They should keep in mind that the things that make you seemingly odd to your peers are the things that make you special when you get here. The things that people thought were really strange and that people didnít like me for, theyíre the reason that Iím on Broadway. I always felt I had little gems inside of me, and people looked at them and said, ďWhy are they so sparkly? Theyíre hurting my eyes! Why arenít you normal like me?Ē Then you get here and people recognize your worth and theyíre interested in your individuality. Itís hard, itís so incredibly hard. I had so many nights of crying and being sad, and my mom hugging me and saying, ďItís OK. Youíre special. Youíre not weird.Ē The things that set you apart in a negative way in junior high and high school, set you apart in a fantastic way in the real world.

I donít know exactly what I expected when I met Laura, but I have to admit that I thought of her as a twenty year old girl - someone with a lot of talent but minimal experience. I donít think I anticipated meeting someone who was wise beyond her years, and thatís really the most accurate way to describe her. She impressed me greatly with her poise, her sense of self-awareness and direction, and the amazing way in which she has grounded herself in a profession that offers little stability. She speaks very highly of her parents and the way she was raised, and I can understand why. The next time I see her take a curtain call, Iím going to think back on that image of a high school girl crying because she was ďdifferentĒ and say to myself, ďBravo, Laura. You showed them!Ē

-- Photographer: Joan Marcus

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