By Maddie Orton
Tony Award-winning actress Laura Benanti was the kind of kid who picked show tunes over Madonna and Pearl Jam.
“I always knew from the time I was little that this is what I wanted to do,” said Benanti. “I always wanted to be on Broadway. That was my dream. … I wanted to be Barbara Cook.”
Benanti is living that dream. She’s starring in “She Loves Me” on Broadway, playing the role Barbara Cook originated over 50 years ago.
Benanti has performing in her blood. The Kinnelon-raised soprano honed her craft with the help of mom Linda Benanti, who runs the Linda Benanti Voice Studio.
“I don’t know what I would have done without her,” said Laura. “She’s an incredible voice teacher, and she cultivated my voice on so many levels. And also, she was an actress as well, and she is a wonderful actress, so she was able to not only guide me vocally, but guide me acting-wise.”
The hard work paid off. Laura helped develop her high school’s fledgling theater club and earned one of Paper Mill Playhouse‘s coveted Rising Star Awards, honoring high school musical productions across the state.
“I won the Paper Mill Playhouse Rising Star Award for ‘Hello, Dolly!’ I played Dolly Levi in ‘Hello, Dolly!’ but up the octave because I’m a soprano,” Benanti said. “You know, Carol Channing is like: ‘I’m going to raise the roof, I’m going to carry,'” Benanti demonstrated in a low belt. “And I was like: ‘I’m going to raise the roof, I’m going to carry,'” she sang in her high soprano. “It was so ridiculous. And yet somehow they gave me this award. I think it was like, ‘Please have this because we feel so bad for you.'”
Benanti went on to earn her Equity card through Paper Mill and made her Broadway debut in “The Sound of Music” at 18.
“They ended up casting me as the understudy to Maria — a wonderful actress named Rebecca Luker,” remembered Benanti. “And she went on vacation for two weeks…and I basically blacked out for that whole first show. I don’t remember anything other than, you know in the beginning it’s like: ‘The hills are alive…’ and you do that?” she asked, resting her arms on her head. “I couldn’t put my hands down. I was like, ‘I’ve got them there. They’re going to stay.’ So, the whole song. And also, ginormous pit stains.”
Benanti garnered a Tony for her portrayal of Louise in “Gypsy” with Patti Lupone, and may be recognizable from her many TV roles in shows like “Nashville” and “Supergirl”.
She also played the Baroness in NBC’s 2013 “Sound of Music Live!” — the first in the latest trend of televised live theater events.
“I think what we’re seeing from the numbers that all of these live production get, is that there is a craving for this type of theatrical experience,” said Benanti. “And if you can’t bring your family to Broadway, let Broadway come to you!”
In her minimal spare time between performing on Broadway and taping for TV, Benanti keeps the creative juices flowing, producing funny web videos, writing a book and composing songs.
“Anything that is creating something,” said Benanti, “I’m really interested in.”