Laura Benanti Talks 'Vanilla Ice Cream', Cafe Carlyle Debut and More
On Tuesday, September 27, Tony winner Laura Benanti (She Loves Me, Gypsy, "Supergirl") will make her Café Carlyle debut serving up "Vanilla Ice Cream" and others musical treats in a new cabaret show, Tales from Soprano Isle. Todd Almond will serve as Benanti's music director.
In addition to this famed song from She Loves Me (which she recently headlined on Broadway, earning her fifth Tony nomination), Benanti has paired an exciting selection of tunes from her career, the American Songbook and elsewhere, with hilarious stories from her life on and off stage/screen.
Last week, Center On The Aisle's Steve Schonberg caught up with Benanti to hear about the show. The two recently shared the stage in May for "We Love Her: A Celebration of Laura Benanti" at Feinstein's/54 Below, produced and hosted by Schonberg. The one-night-only sold-out event featured an all-star lineup of Benanti's friends, family, and past co-stars.
Since closing She Loves Me in July, Benanti's kept busy with a range of concert appearances, including the premiere of Tales from Soprano Isle at Feinstein's at the Nikko in San Francisco. She also got political-and praised-for her hysterical portrayal of Melania Trump on the "Late Show with Stephen Colbert," mocking Trump's now infamous speech at the Republican National Convention.
However, Benanti's biggest news came when she revealed on social media in August that she and husband, Patrick Brown, would soon take on the role of parents to a baby girl.
Schonberg: Laura, so nice to chat with you [giggling, imitating the formality of a typical interview]. I hear you have a new show at the Café Carlyle. What is it?
Benanti: I do! Todd Almond is my music director again. It's called Tales From Soprano Isle, which is a spin-off of a joke that I did on my last album, where I intimated that sopranos are going to be kicked off the face of the earth and forced to live on an island... drinking out of coconuts.
I'm piggybacking on that idea. It's classic musical theater and American Songbook, but then also includes Joni Mitchell and Tori Amos and some Harry Chapin; I love singing [his music]. There's also a song that Todd [Almond] wrote that he sang at my wedding to Patrick. There's plenty of funny stories and anecdotes about my life both on and off stage.
Schonberg: You mentioned funny anecdotes. I know you were very vocal about how your last role [parfumerie clerk, Amalia Balash] in She Loves Me gave you the rare chance to be both a soprano, for which there are mostly dramatic roles, but with comedic flare. Has any of that perspective influenced what you picked for the show?
Benanti: I approach everything from the lens of humor. I wouldn't say that playing that role has influenced me. It's not made me do anything differently in this show. I do sing three songs though from She Loves Me [Including... "Vanilla Ice Cream"].
Schonberg: You have a great, longstanding relationship with Feinstein's/54 Below. Why the new foray to the Café Carlyle?
Benanti: Honestly, it's scheduling. When I knew I was pregnant, which meant I was not going to be able to take some of the acting roles that I would like to, I reached out to Feinstein's/54 Below to see if they had room for me. Unfortunately, they didn't have any [dates available] until January, which is when I will be a giant about to give birth at any moment. I've never worked at the Café Carlyle before. It just seemed like a good opportunity to do that.
Schonberg: The Café Carlyle is so classic and they've been so great at bringing in a new variety lately to keep it fresh and modern. You're a part that, which is awesome.
Benanti: It's interesting because, Feinstein's/54 Below, those people are my family. They have known me since I was 17 years old. They gave me my first job ever in The Sound of Music [Broadway producers and Feinstein's/54 Below co-founders, Tom Viertel, Steve Baruch and Richard Frankel]. I will always go back there. This is not like a defection by any means. I do see the Café Carlyle as an opportunity to not only play a classic New York venue though, but to broaden my fan base in that way. I think some of the people who go to the Carlyle regularly might not be fans of mine. I look at it as an opportunity to win some people over.
For more from this interview, click here.
Pictured: Benanti performs "Vanilla Ice Cream" at "We Love Her: A Celebration of Laura Benanti" (at Feinstein's/54 Below). Photo by Jerritt Clark.