Laura Benanti remembers having a slight existential crisis as a kid. “What is this world that I live in? What is this horrible place where people know who Paula Abdul is, and they don’t know who Rosemary Clooney is? “It made me feel really lonely and really sad,” recalls Benanti, who grew up in northern New Jersey. On the flipside, it also made her feel like “a 45-year-old gay man in a little girl’s body.”
Luckily she still feels that way. Next weekend Benanti performs with the Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington in a special Kennedy Center concert, A Gay Man’s Guide to Broadway. “Since I am an honorary 45-year-old gay man,” she jokes, “who better than me to accompany them?”
Benanti’s ties to the chorus extend beyond mere song and dance. “My late Uncle Bob was one of the original members of the chorus,” she says. “So it’s a very meaningful event to me. I love these guys.”
Of course, Benanti is a natural fit for the program as a veritable Broadway star herself. She won a Tony Award for her indelible portrayal of Louise opposite Patti LuPone’s Rose in the 2008 revival of Gypsy, and she’s also appeared on Broadway in Into The Woods, Nine, Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, and The Sound of Music, where she played Maria as part of her debut 16 years ago. Last year, Benanti, who has had recurring roles on TV shows including The Good Wife and Nurse Jackie, played the Baroness in NBC’s live broadcast of The Sound of Music.
Benanti is a funny and engaging live performer, as demonstrated on her debut cabaret album from last year, In Constant Search of the Right Kind of Attention. But her funniest jokes often stem from pathos or serious concerns — whether teenage despair or the state of pop singing. “I do honestly worry that we are becoming desensitized as a nation to everything,” she says. Even singing. “There’s no nuance anymore. Everyone’s just screaming. … It’s who can belt the highest, who can scream the loudest. It doesn’t move me.”
[Editor’s note: This story has been amended to correct a misspelling of Patti LuPone’s name.]