Los Angeles Cabaret Review: LAURA BENANTI: IN CONSTANT SEARCH OF THE RIGHT KIND OF ATTENTION (Catalina Bar & Grill in Hollywood)

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by Tony Frankel on January 9, 2014

in Theater-Los Angeles

ATTENTION MUST BE PAID

The two most important aspects of the right kind of cabaret act are the singer and the songs. But when you go to see Laura Benanti’s new cabaret In Constant Search of the Right Kind of Attention at Catalina Bar & Grill (if you can get tickets to her last performance tonight) it is suggested that you do not dissect this eclectic event song-by-song. The successful totality of this wondrous performer’s wildly funny and wide-ranging entertainment is the stuff that great cabaret acts are made of.

In her desire to stretch the boundaries of a typical one-hour+ songfest, the Tony-winning soprano, composer and guitarist offers the following: standards, singer-songwriter selections, original compositions, a medley, renderings from two of her Broadway musicals (Nine and Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown), and choices from music director/pianist’s Todd Almond’s original musicals.

laura-benantiReactions to individual selections will be varied, and some are more successful than others, but she consistently showcases her astounding ability to act a song and the elasticity of her silvery, strong, distinctive voice. On the plus side: Joni Mitchell’s “He Comes for Conversation,” even though it’s overly faithful to the original, is superb; Lerner & Loewe’s “I’m Glad I’m Not Young Anymore,” accompanied by Almond on accordion, is delightful; Harry Chapin’s storytelling “Mr. Tanner” evokes a bittersweet pang; “Inappropriate Medley,” a riotous potpourri which includes “I Got You Babe” and “Ol’ Man River,” is incredibly amusing.

Her mash-up of Ellie Goulding’s ecstatic “Starry-Eyed” and Lana Del Rey’s wounded “Video Games” may be heartfelt and beautifully delivered, but this and a few standards (Loesser’s “My Time of Day,” Kern & Mercer’s “I’m Old Fashioned,” and Lerner & Loewe’s “On the Street Where You Live”) have little styling and the songs seem trivial in this context.

Laura Benanti CD, In Constant Search of the Right Kind of Attention - COVER PosterYet it is the context which makes this such a winning show. Benanti (co-star of NBC’s recent The Sound of Music Live!) is so gorgeous and sexy that it’s refreshing, titillating and engaging when she breaks out in raconteur-styled, self-deprecating, tongue-in-cheek humor, relating stories about a gay cruise leather party, growing up as a “gay man” in a young girl’s body, and learning how to bow from Chita Rivera. Even when sound issues arose, she played it smart and cool with off-the-cuff remarks.

Indeed, last night’s concert (which coincides with the release of her same-titled debut solo album—see my review here) is so damn fetching that I can forgive Catalina Bar & Grill for its overpriced drinks and fare (average food masquerading as gourmet), slow service, oddly shaped room, unappealing décor and crowded entryway.

And what’s up with a distracting screen on both sides of the stage? In between live projections which made Benanti look like Max Headroom was hideous animation that looked like LSD-inspired hallucinations (bravo, Laura, for pointing that out). Most alarming was not that a monitor began to sputter (technical mishaps happen), but that it wasn’t turned off when Benanti asked the sound man to do so; instead, he tinkered with it for THREE SONGS before it was fixed. Excuse me, but when a professional, delightful, down-to-earth diva asks you to do something in the middle of her act, do it.

OK, so this so-called supper club may not be able to conceal that it’s a basement boiler room in an office building, but Benanti is a friggin’ star, and made me feel like I was in heaven.

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Laura Benanti: In Constant Search of the Right Kind of Attention
presented by Chris Isaacson and Upright Cabaret
Catalina Bar & Grill
6725 W. Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood
scheduled to end on Thursday, January 9, 2014 at 8:30 pm
doors open at 7pm for cocktail and dinner service
(two-drink or one meal per person minimum)
for tickets, call (866) 468-3399
or visit www.UprightCabaret.com or www.TicketWeb.com

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