"You guys that's the dumbest thing I've ever done. <beat> No it's not."--Laura Benanti
Laura Benanti's recent cabaret show, “In Constant Search of the Right Kind of Attention," at 54 Below is an ever-loving delight. She manages to be not only a beguiling hostess and a killer soprano, but the small setting gives you the opportunity to appreciate her skills as an actress. Between sharing "little known facts" about the 54 Below building ("Everything in this room is made entirely of cocaine,") and telling stories of her childhood ("I was a 45 year old gay man in a nine-year-old's body,") Benanti knows how to charm an audience. She's flirty, kooky, and fun. You kinda want to be her best friend.
"Thank you <beat> smattering of people."--Laura Benanti
Of course, she can also sing and she covers a range of songs including some classic numbers (On the Street Where You Live, I'm Old-Fashioned), some new musical numbers (Unusual Way, several Todd Almond compositions), and a large helping of popular music (Joni Mitchell, a mash-up of Ellie Goulding & Lana Del Rey, a medley of pop songs). But her intros and even her interpretation of these songs is playful. Cabaret can be soooo serious, and she has her moments of traditional cabaret, but she dials up the goofy factor as well and it really serves the show. She makes it as enjoyable as the music. Her show last year at the American Songbook series was great but she was aiming to fill a concert hall there. Here, the intimate 54 Below setting made her mix of serious song-stylings and cabaret banter work even better.
Finding a strong balance between light and dark, I was reminded how great an actress she is. Yes, she's got a great voice. No question. But in the close quarters of 54 Below I was able to really see her mine her songs for character and depth. Whether it was the dark and moody story-song Mr. Tanner by Harry Chapin or the comic, hyperactive Model Behavior from Women on the Verge of A Nervous Breakdown, Benanti shines at both. America, can we find a vehicle for her to do this all the time?!
Also, I really want her to have the opportunity to use the phrase "slutty kittens" again.