Broadway star Laura Benanti – live at 54 Below

benanti2Laura Benanti is one of those incredibly gifted theater actresses who probably would have been a household name if she had come along during an earlier Broadway era.

Benanti has been nominated for Tonys (and won one for her performance as Louise in the Patti LuPone revival of “Gypsy”) and delivered an astounding range of performances in everything from “The Sound of Music” to the grossly underrated musical version of the Pedro Almodovar film “Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown” (if that show had not closed early Benanti might have scored a second Tony for her work as demented model — above — who is dating a terrorist).

Like most of her Broadway peers, Benanti has had to work in television and film to make a living but she has created an impressive stage resume despite the challenge of finding good musical roles in today’s commercial theater scene.

benantiBroadway Records has released Benanti’s first solo CD — “In Constant Search of the Right Kind of Attention” — which was recorded live at 54 Below in the theater district and serves as a wonderful illustration of her talents as a singer and story teller.

The CD includes Benanti’s tour de force song from “Women on the Verge” — “Model Behavior” — as well as an eclectic collection of tunes from Broadway and such pop artists as Joni Mitchell and Harry Chapin.

The patter between tunes is delightful, filling in Benanti’s biography up until now and some of her adventures away from Broadway (two of the performer’s TV series, “The Playboy Club” and “Go On” met with quick cancellation but she has landed recurring roles on “Royal Pains” and “Law & Order: SVU”).

Benanti talks about growing up “a 45-year-old gay man” in the body of the young girl who went trick or treating as Fosca from the Stephen Sondheim musical “Passion” and who knew Sondheim’s entire “Follies” score by heart at the age of 11.

Benanti and her musical director Todd Almond find fresh ways to present old show tunes such as “On the Street Where You Live” from “My Fair Lady” and “I’m Glad I’m Not Young Anymore” from “Gigi”).

Benanti’s skills as an actress come through in her performance of Harry Chapin’s devastating “Mr. Tanner” about the way New York crushes the dreams of a singer from Dayton, Ohio, as well as Joni Mitchell’s “He Comes for Conversation.”

Kudos to Broadway Records for preserving this live performance by one of our major theater talents.

Joe Meyers