Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Let Me Entertain You: Laura Benanti at Feinstein's at Loews Regency

Before I get to her voice, and what she sang, and all those necessary details about someone performing a solo cabaret show, I need to get one thing out of the way: Laura Benanti is a hoot. No, she's a hoot and a half. The woman knows how to tell a story, work a room, and turn unexpected moments into comic gold. Her tales of choosing an unusual Halloween costume, of being mistaken for a certain celebrity, and of being "a 45-year-old gay man in a little girl's body" are funny enough to be the foundation of an excellent evening of stand-up comedy.

And, oh, yeah, she can sing.

With the excellent Mary Mitchell Campbell playing both piano and straight man, Benanti offers a surprising and entertaining 75 minutes of songs, including "Skylark" (which she sang in Swing), "The Sound of Music" (which she sang in, well, guess), a Gypsy medley, "I Want to Be Loved by You," "Honey Pie," "Unusual Way" (which she sang in Nine), a Sondheim medley, and Harry Chapin's poignant "Mr. Tanner." The pièce de résistance is an amazing bits-and-pieces medley that she introduces as being "heartfelt," but that isn't the only part of her that feels those songs!

While I would give Benanti's patter an A+, some of her songs don't land quite as well. They are still excellent, but Benanti's incredible presence dissipates a little when she sings serious pieces. It's as though an attack of formality causes her to close herself off a bit. I feel churlish to even mention this, since the evening is so entertaining, but you know what? She could be even better!

One other point. Benanti should take a mike-wielding lesson from Barbara Cook (as should many performers of today's generation, actually). Benanti holds the mike too close to her mouth, which blocks part of her face and sometimes exaggerates her breathing and her "P"s. (I never understand why people use mikes at Feinstein's anyway. It's not a large room, and the unmiked voice is a beautiful thing.) On the other hand, Benanti is excellent at playing to the entire room, left, right, and center, and as I hope I have gotten across, she's amazing overall.

Benanti is appearing again on May 22. Catch her if you can.

(Press ticket, far audience right.)


Anonymous said...

You've sold me. I want to go!

Wendy Caster said...

Please let us know what you think if you do go! My bet is that you'll have a great time.