by Tony Frankel on December 29, 2013

in CD-DVD,Theater-Los Angeles


She received a Tony nomination for both the Broadway revue Swing! and for playing Cinderella in the revival of Into the Woods. She won a Tony for portraying Louise in the Patti LuPone revival of Gypsy. She soloed in Andrew Lippa’s world premiere of the song cycle I Am Harvey Milk. Recently, she co-starred as Baroness Elsa Schräder in the NBC production of The Sound of Music Live! She has also appeared in non-singing roles in film and television. Yet none of this information is in the liner notes of Laura Benanti’s new CD.

While she can be heard on many cast recordings, it is newsworthy that the multi-talented composer, guitarist, and Broadway soprano is now releasing her first solo album as part of Broadway Records’ Live at 54 Below series: In Constant Search of the Right Kind of Attention. 13 songs and 11 introductions make up this set recorded live at the swank cabaret supper club on the site of New York’s legendary erstwhile disco Studio 54.

The gorgeous Benanti is an eclectic and powerhouse entertainer who is much like a complex wine with many bouquets: big, bold, buttery, creamy, earthy, flamboyant, and opulent. She is a terrific actress who is as comfortable with Broadway as she is with coffeehouse folk—especially given her distinctive fluttery vibrato. That’s an awful lot for one entertainer, and it turns out to be an awful lot for one CD (even a wine becomes overpowered with too many good qualities).

This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, especially for Benanti fans. Personally, I can’t wait to see her show live in L.A. in January, because her diverse song set and mix of modern day and old-fashioned sentiment make this a wonderful act which stretches the boundaries of cabaret. But some songs aren’t the same without seeing them, and the intrusive applause and some of her trivial asides went unchecked by the album’s producers and engineers.

Laura Benanti, In Constant Search of the Right Kind of Attention in Holywood - PosterThis means that some will prefer to download their favorite tunes rather than sit through, say, a homogenous rendition of Loesser’s “My Time of Day,” which is not her métier (it also rings as disingenuous when she changes the lyrics to “And you’re the only folks [replacing “doll”] I’ve ever wanted to share it with me”). Likewise, you could grow tired of trying to figure out what she is doing that makes the audience laugh during a straight forward version of the Kern/Mercer tune “I’m Old Fashioned.”

Two Lerner & Loewe tunes highlight the set’s discrepancies. An allusion to growing up on 54th Street peppers a rendition of the My Fair Lady standard which becomes a skippy “On the Street Where I Lived.” Even with the astounding quartet behind her— musical director Todd Almond jazzing it up on piano, Brian Ellingsen on bass, Ann Klein on mandolin and Rich Mercurio on drums—there is little styling and the song is rendered trivial: it’s light and airy, but not something special. On the other side of the spectrum is the bouncy “I’m Glad I’m Not Young Anymore” from Gigi: With Almond’s accordion accompaniment, Benanti becomes a charming chanteuse from the Left Bank (of the Hudson, that is).

Less successful are two of Almond’s compositions from unnamed musicals. Both are from the Adam Guettel school of songwriting, intriguing with teasing melodies, but they are not stand-alone pieces; they are mood songs. Benanti creates a character well, but the songs “Tilly’s Aria” and “Spring is Coming” seemingly would work better within the musical they came from.

The danger of Singer/Songwriters material is that those artists connect with their own work in a way others simply don’t. A mash-up of Ellie Goulding’s ecstatic “Starry-Eyed” and Lana Del Rey’s wounded “Video Games,” along with Harry Chapin’s “Mr. Tanner” (a bittersweet tale of a singer), are all heartfelt and delivered beautifully; but I wonder why her interpretations are similar to those of the artists who originally sang them. Even Joni Mitchell’s “He Comes for Conversation” receives an almost perfect replication of the folk/pop/rock artist’s original; still, Benanti absolutely nails it. I loved it, and she has more than whetted my appetite for an album of Joni covers.

I quickly became accustomed to her autobiographical, whimsical, tongue-in-cheek and often-uproarious banter, but those qualities bear repeat listening in “The Ukulele Song,” a delightful observational ditty she composed long ago. Benanti also successfully revisits songs she sang on Broadway: Yeston’s gorgeous “Unusual Way” from Nine, and Yazbek’s “Model Behavior,” the exceedingly delightful tune from Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown.

There are artists whose cabaret recordings can be heard over and over. Frances Faye, Patti LuPone, Allan Sherman and Mel Tormé come to mind. They use material such as “Model Behavior,” which is a knockout and exemplifies that different selections might have made the listener return again and again: It’s a stand-alone patter song with a strong melody, variations-on-a-theme, and character-rich humor that requires flair and styling—which Benanti delivers in spades. Her winning personality shines on this CD, and some of the cuts are amazing, but the entire collection feels like a keepsake for those who saw her live.

In Constant Search of the Right Kind of Attention: Live at 54 Below
Laura Benanti
Broadway Records, 2013
24 tracks / 68 minutes
available at Broadway Records or Amazon

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Laura Benanti: In Constant Search of the Right Kind of Attention
Catalina Bar & Grill
6725 W. Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood
Wednesday, January 8 and Thursday, January 9, 2014 at 8:30pm
doors open at 7pm for cocktail and dinner service (minimums apply)
for tickets, call (866) 468-3399
or visit or

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