Laura Benanti: Tales from Soprano Isle

| October 1, 2016

Laura Benanti

Tales from Soprano Isle

Café Carlyle, NYC, September 27, 2016

Reviewed by Elizabeth Ahlfors for Cabaret Scenes

Lauara-Benanti-Cabaret-Scenes-Magazine_212Triple-threat talent Laura Benanti—beautiful, imaginative, self-confident and wildly talented singer/actress/comedian—makes a dynamic Café Carlyle debut with Tales from Soprano Isle. Perhaps her “soprano isle” is a special place for battling coloraturas or maybe it’s just a space for this slightly wacky soprano’s energetic flow of songs and stories delivered fast and funny with bold audience contact and a lot of humor.

Her opening was a 15-minute medley from Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick’s She Loves Me, which showed off her stunning voice, shrewd characterization and zesty sense of humor. In two songs she defined Amalia: disappointed in “Dear Friend” and joyous with “Vanilla Ice Cream.”

Benanti’s vocals are delightfully crystalline and her slightly wacky stories as hilarious as her Broadway debut in the revival of The Sound of Music when stepping into the lead at age 19, she was suddenly paralyzed with stage fright. She re-enacts that frightening performance showing a comically physical and vocal grip of terror. Other experiences followed, personal and professional, like working with Patti LuPone in Gypsy and Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, when she learned about the morning-after hazards of a night on the town drinking with LuPone. From David Yazbek’s Women on the Verge…, she performs the obsessive-compulsive seriousness in “Lovesick.”

Now pregnant with her first child, Benanti traces her youthful memories as an independent, creative child who loved Rosemary Clooney and musical theater, and dressed up for Halloween as Fosca from Stephen Sondheim’s Passion. She was a reluctant high school soprano who audaciously tossed out Sisqó’s “Thong Song,” “Baby Got Back” by Sir Mix-a-Lot, “Respect,” (written by Otis Redding and a major hit for Aretha Franklin) and John Fogerty’s “Proud Mary,” a hit for Ike and Tina Turner. Energized, she twists and turns, banging on a drum exploring the complexities of sexuality in Tori Amos’ “Take to the Sky.”

On the softer side, thinking of motherhood lends her rendition of Joni Mitchell’s “Both Sides Now” a beautifully nuanced resonance. It also brings to mind Harry Chapin’s melancholy musing about today’s music in “Remember When the Music,” enhanced with vocal and piano harmony by talented Todd Almond, her musical director and pianist. Saluting Clooney, Benanti performed “Love Is Here to Stay” (George and Ira Gershwin) and Irving Berlin’s “Love, You Didn’t Do Right By Me.” Arranged and accompanied by Almond with persuasive sensitivity, the two songs formed a story of falling in love, heartbreak, and tentatively giving love another try. Almond also presents his lovely original song, “Take Good Care of Me,” accompanied by Brian Ellinson on bass.

Laura Benanti closed the show gently, putting down her microphone. Inspired by a song her mother sang, John Kander and Fred Ebb’s “A Quiet Thing” (Flora, the Red Menace).  Benanti took a moment to savor this time in her life.  “When it all come true/Just the way you planned/It’s funny, but the bells don’t ring/It’s a quiet thing.”

Laura Benanti is at the Carlyle through October 8.

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Category: Cabaret Reviews, New York City, New York City Cabaret Reviews, Regional

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