By Steve Schonberg (@CntrOnTheAisle)
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.
Schonberg: I don’t think there’s anyone who’s not a fan of yours, but I appreciate the sentiment.
Benanti: You’re biased.
Schonberg: Your next role will be as a mom. Tell me about the excitement being pregnant and soon having a child?
Benanti: Patrick and I are thrilled. We’re having a little girl, which is so exciting. It’s something I’ve wanted for awhile. For various reasons that wasn’t a possibility for me. I’m really, really grateful to be having this baby and to be having this baby with Patrick, who’s going to be such a wonderful dad.
It was tricky to be in my first trimester during the last three months of She Loves Me and to be doing the live stream [produced by BroadwayHD] and the Tonys. I had such a severe form of morning sickness that it was challenging.
Schonberg: Even though it wasn’t public that you were pregnant, you were pretty vocal with fans who wanted access to you – by seeing the show, or at the stage door – and who expressed unreasonable disappointment when they could not do so. You basically said, “You don’t know what we stars go through.”
Benanti: It’s not even we as stars. I don’t see myself as a star. It’s we as humans. I really truly understand when people are disappointed that they don’t get to see somebody in a show. I have felt that disappointment. That is really what it is.
Imagine the disappointment the actor feels that they can’t be there during the job that they love, knowing that they’re disappointing people. It’s not like I’m sitting home eating bonbons. Nobody does that. If we’re not performing there’s a good reason. I just wish there was more of a sense of—I hope—that person is okay and not “you’re a selfish bastard.” I don’t know a single actor who’s like, “I’m just not going to go in tonight.”
That’s not how it works. If we’re not there, there’s a reason. That reason is usually not great. I feel that lack of compassion and it just feels selfish and mean. I just don’t respond well to bullies.
Schonberg: Which brings up a very important question. Do they still make bonbons?
Benanti: You know what? I don’t think they do make bonbons, but I think that there are ice cream companies that make small bite size ice cream.
Schonberg: Which is what stars are sitting home eating when they don’t go to work.
Benanti: Exactly. This is why you are the journalist. These are the hard-hitting questions that you think of.
Schonberg: I can’t help but think you’ve moved into this epic new home about two years ago [in Harlem]. Now you’ve got a child on the way. Have you been planning and setting up the nursery and baby-proofing the house?
Benanti: We definitely are going to start with the nursery for sure. Right now her room is like a garbage can. Everything we don’t use every day we’re like, “Just put it in that room.” We’re going to start working on her room. Baby proofing, I feel like you don’t really have to do right at first because they’re so little.
Schonberg: You’re always so fashionable. Do you have any thoughts yet for design and color and stuff for babies that is a great chance to express mini-fashion?
Benanti: The idea that you think I’m fashionable is amazing to me. I feel like I am not fashionable, literally, at all. My friend Scott Allgauer was my stylist during all of the awards season. He made me look fashionable. I’m going to send you a picture of what I’m wearing when we get off the phone… I look like a lunatic. I don’t think I’m fashionable at all. When it comes to her, I feel like we’re going to put her in some pretty cute things for sure.
Schonberg: That’s great. I think fans will be surprised to hear it because obviously, they see you in Scott’s amazing selections.
Benanti: That is all Scott. If people see me walking down the street it’s always leggings, t-shirt, fanny pack, baseball cap. It’s not great. Patrick was like, “Are you going to an Indigo Girls concert? What’s going on?”
Schonberg: A political question. Do you expect you’ll be playing Melania Trump for four years?
Benanti: I hope not. I choose the good of the country over the good of my career.
Laura Benanti can be seen at the Café Carlyle from September 27 to October 8 at 8:45 p.m. For reservations, call 212-744-1600 or purchase tickets via TicketWeb ($60-$130).