BWW Review: Laura and Linda Benanti Return to Kennedy Center in THE STORY GOES ON
Nearly eight years ago, Laura Benanti delighted Kennedy Center audiences with a solo cabaret performance as part of Barbara Cook's Spotlight Series. The entire show was impressive, but one moment still stays with me today. That occurred when Laura Benanti's mother, Linda Benanti, joined her onstage for a heartfelt performance of "Children Will Listen" from Into the Woods. Last Friday, Kennedy Center audiences were treated to another welcome dose of the tremendously talented mother-daughter duo as part of the Renée Fleming VOICES series. The show, aptly titled The Story Goes On (Laura is a brand-new mom), featured an eclectic set list, but there was one common thread - each song was exceptionally well sung. The easy rapport between mother and daughter was most evident as they shared songs and stories that have shaped their lives accompanied by Music Director Todd Almond on piano and Brian Ellingsen on bass.
A humorous and fitting rendition of "The Grass is Always Greener" from Woman of the Year started the evening off strong. An endearing medley of Disney songs followed and stood out for thanks to the pair's harmonic blend. Later in the show, they would perform an entirely different kind of duet of "inappropriate" songs - the contrast was most amusing. Two other duets were my top highlights though. Their performance of "Children Will Listen" was just as effective as eight years ago, if not more so. "A Quiet Thing" from Flora the Red Menace was equally stirring.
Many of the solo numbers were just as strong as the duets. Laura Benanti mentioned that her mother, a successful voice teacher in New Jersey with stage credits of her own, hadn't performed in over thirty years. However, you would never know it from her emotionally and technically flawless performance of "Mira" from Carnival - a song that, she explained, was very special to her because it was the audition song she used when she first came to New York. Another strong moment came when she paid tribute to some of her childhood singing idols, including Judy Garland and Julie Andrews. While her selection from Camelot showcased pure joy and strong vocals, I must say I've not heard a rendition of "The Man That Got Away" (from A Star is Born) that well sung and gut-wrenching in some time. The extended applause she received was certainly well deserved. It was actually my favorite vocal performance of the night.
Laura Benanti also made the most of her time in the spotlight. Her in-between song banter (while slightly too drawn out for my tastes) had the audience in constant laughter thanks to her natural knack for comedy. Her enviable vocal skills ensured a nostalgic rendition of "The Sound of Music" stayed with you far after the performance ended. It was even more special on Friday night because she dedicated it to her friend and fellow Broadway actress, Jan Maxwell, who recently passed away. (Ms. Maxwell played the Baroness in The Sound of Music revival in which Laura made her Broadway debut.) She balanced the comedy and impeccable singing in a slightly tongue-in-cheek rendition of "Vanilla Ice Cream" from her most recent Broadway musical, She Loves Me. Never scared of taking a bit of a risk, Ms. Benanti also shared a Tori Amos and Joni Mitchell tune with the audience.
If I had to offer one criticism of this wonderful night of song, I would say that I kept on waiting for the duo to sing "The Story Goes On" from Baby because - well - they used that song title as the title for the cabaret. While it would have been wonderful to hear that song, it was a most enjoyable night nonetheless.
Running Time: Around ninety minutes with no intermission.
LAURA AND Linda Benanti: THE STORY GOES ON played The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts - 2700 F Street, NW in Washington, DC - on March 9, 2018. For tickets and information about future Renée Fleming VOICES concerts, click here.
Photo Credit: Alexa Brown