BWW Reviews: Broadway Actress/Singer Laura Benanti Charms Catalina Bar & Grill
Beautiful actress/singer Laura Benanti, Tony Award winner for Gypsy, performed at 54 Below in New York during 2013, and the live concert was recorded on Broadway Records. To celebrate the release of the CD entitled In Constant Search of the Right Kind of Attention, Chris Isaacson Presents booked Benanti into the Catalina Bar & Grill on Thursday January 9, and the show immediately sold out. As a result, an additional concert was scheduled for Wednesday January 8, which also sold out. Why such a fuss over Laura Benanti, you may ask? The answer is simple. Apart from the fact that this is her Los Angeles debut, let's add that like Audra McDonald, Kristen Chenoweth and Idina Menzel, this lady is a sensational singer with an incomparable range, and as the title of the album suggests, she is totally worthy of the highest form of attention. In her 75-minute set, which included just about every song on the album, she also proved what a winning charm and sense of humor she possesses! Like Patti LuPone before her, Laura Benanti has a precious wit that can only be experienced to its fullest in this kind of environment, namely a cabaret setting. She let her hair down and she was...GREAT! Outstanding musicians Kevin Axt was on bass, Ray Brinker on drums, Andrew Synowiec on guitar and virtuoso musical arranger and director Todd Almond also dueted with Benanti a couple of times during the set on pieces he had arranged or composed.
Benanti's humor was nonstop, infectious throughout. At the top, she stated that had the audience known that she was going to sing the CD, they could have stayed home and listened, but added "you can see up close all the faces I make", blown up on two screens on both sides of the stage. LuPone offered the recorded message in her big brassy tone "Turn off your...cell phones!" Nice fun touch! In Benanti's opener "I'm Old Fashioned", she threw in cell-phone texting to lighten the serious moments, and as she went along and described growing up in New Jersey and eventually New York, she tweaked the My Fair Lady tune to "On the Street Where I Lived" explaining that it was easy to do the show at 54 Below because she had literally lived blocks away. Calling herself a plain child, she talked about going from door to door in the neighborhood with her mom, and when anyone would answer, she would start singing a Broadway tune at the top of her lungs, at which point her mother would admonish "I apologize, but you'd be better off to let her finish!" This patter led into "He Comes For Conversation" by the remarkable Joni Mitchell. Benanti also talked about her obsession with old movies, Some Like It Hot in particular, and how she adored Marilyn Monroe's song with a ukulele. At that moment she grabbed a tiny ukulele from the top of the piano and offered her own composition "Ukulele Song", an upbeat refreshing look at a contemporary gal and her unending struggles.
Proving that she is most definitely a theatrical old soul, Benanti deliciously threw herself into some hilarious patter about being a soprano, which unfortunately signifies out.of.date, out.of.touch... and that she, her contemporaries and master craftsman Barbara Cook may just be eventually shuffled off and locked away in a Soprano Museum, where no one will hear them. Hilarious moments, these! She also referred to herself as a "45 year-old gay man in a little girl's body", befuddled by why people do not know who Rosemary Clooney is. One added feature in the show was the inclusion of an Inappropriate Medley with snippets or "tiny pieces of my heart" like "Ol' Man River", "I Got You Babe", "Respect" and "Proud Mary". What an eclectic mix...sheer delight! Another comic gem came in the encore "Model Behavior" offering deliciously frenetic phone patter from the amazing David Yazbek and his Women On the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, in which Benanti had premiered the same role on Broadway to great acclaim.
On the serious side, she performed Frank Loesser's haunting "My Time of Day" and toward the end, a truly gorgeous arrangement of "Unusual Way" from Nine, in which she co-starred in the Broadway revival with Antonio Banderas. There was also an off-beat Harry Chapin song "Mister Tanner" beautifully rendered that shows how critics can oft times unjustifiably prevent a genuine artistic talent from blossoming. Another piece de resistance came with two songs written by Todd Almond with Sarah Ruhl "Tilly's Aria" and "Frank and Tilly Make Love" performed in duet... engaging due to their truly lilting melodies as well as soulful content.
Call her quirky, off-center, or whatever you like, Laura Benanti oozes charm and has a wonderfully unique style. No one else is quite like her...she is beautiful to look at, has a glorious vocal instrument... it is sheer joy to be in her company.