BOSTON, Mass.—From her Tony-winning performance as Louise in the 2008 Broadway revival of Gypsy to her scene-stealing turn as the stunning Baroness Elsa Schrader in NBC’s Sound of Music Live! and her nuanced portrayal of Sadie Stone, a domestic violence survivor on ABC’s musical drama Nashville, there’s pretty much nothing that Laura Benanti can’t do.
That includes being hilarious, as web denizens well know from Benanti’s witty Twitter musings and her cheeky web series Life With Laura and Workin’ It. Benanti will return to Broadway next year to star in the revival of She Loves Me, but next week she’s starring in Smile, the Boston Gay Men’s Chorus’s Pride blowout. You’ll hear Broadway favorites from Cabaret and Into the Woods; lesser-known tunes from the 70s-era feminist musical I’m Getting My Act Together And Taking It On The Road; and modern classics from Madonna’s new album Rebel Heart. Smile takes place on Sunday, June 14 at 3pm at Boston’s Symphony Hall. We guarantee it’ll make you … smile!
We caught up with Benanti in advance of her performance with BGMC to get her take on the importance of the Gay Men’s Chorus movement, the overwhelming response to her Sound of Music Live! performance, her Broadway idols, and more.
Q: You’ve performed with Gay Men’s Choruses in Washington, D.C., and San Francisco, and soon you’ll be joining the boys from Boston. What is it that you enjoy most about sharing the stage with a couple hundred or so gay guys singing pop songs and show tunes?
A: My late uncle was one of the original members of the Gay Men’s Chorus of D.C. so singing with the chorus feels like being with family. I also know that many men who are rejected by their biological family find their home within the chorus. That is such an important thing to celebrate and honor. [pullquote]My late uncle was one of the original members of the Gay Men’s Chorus of D.C. so singing with the chorus feels like being with family. I also know that many men who are rejected by their biological family find their home within the chorus. That is such an important thing to celebrate and honor.[/pullquote]
Q: Your uncle, Robert Wonneberger, founded the D.C. Gay Men’s Chorus in the early 1980s so you grew up with exposure to LGBT culture and community. What role do you see the Gay Men’s Chorus movement playing in advancing LGBT equality?
A: He was one of the original members, not one of the founders. But I believe any time a group of people with a common goal and belief system comes together through love and music it is a powerful wave that can knock over even very stubborn hatred and ignorance.
Q: You’ve talked before about how much you loved musical theater as a child and said you did a lot of singing of showtunes in front of your bedroom mirror. What shows and songs (or actors) were most important to you back then, and can you say a bit about why?
Chita Rivera, cause duh…she’s Chita. Patti LuPone, Bernadette Peters, Barbara Cooke, Rosemary Clooney. I was obsessed with Stephen Sondheim and all of his shows and all the performers in them!
Q: You’re obviously an accomplished live actor/performer. But The Sound of Music Live! telecast, I assume, was a unique experience for you and you kind of stole the show as Elsa Schrader. What is it like to perform live for an audience of 18.5 million viewers that you can’t even see?
A: Twenty-two million! And honestly, ignorance was bliss. I didn’t realize it would get that kind of audience. I thought four million tops. So I was pretty relaxed. I really enjoyed myself.
Q: When did you discover all of the real-time love you were getting on the internet during the show―including the hashtag #GaysforElsa? Were you checking Twitter backstage?
A: After the show was over my Twitter crashed from all the new followers (over 2,000) so quickly. It was overwhelming. I had never felt an outpouring of love like that on such a massive scale. It was a time in my life where I really needed it, too.
Q: You just wrapped up the starring role in New York Spring Spectacular with the Rockettes at Radio City Music Hall. Workin’ It, the web series you made to promote the show was hilarious, especially the rehearsal with the Rockettes. Yet, most of your recent roles, particularly onstage, have been dramatic. Do you prefer drama or would you like to do more comedy?
A: I am lucky that I like doing whatever I’m doing when I’m doing it. I like to explore all sides of my range and I’m lucky that I haven’t been boxed in and I am able to do that.
Q: Speaking of dramatic roles, you said back in 2001 that if you couldn’t have a socially responsible showbiz career, then you didn’t want one at all. Your Nashville character Sadie Stone, who is reclaiming her life after an abusive relationship, is certainly in keeping with the statement. Do you still want to be a role model for others? Why is that important to you?
A: I think it is important to live one’s life mindfully when you are even remotely in the public eye. I’m not perfect, and my comedy is irreverent, but I try to remember that some of my “fans” are impressionable young people.
Q: You’ll be performing in Boston at the end of LGBT Pride Week. Boston will obviously be extra, extra queer that week. What would you do if you ran into one of those #GaysforElsa in full Laura Benanti-as-Elsa Schrader drag on the streets of Boston?
A: I WOULD SCREAM WITH JOY.
Boston’s Gay Men’s Chorus presents “Smile” with Laura Benanti on Sunday, June 14, 2015 at 3pm at Symphony Hall, 301 Massachusetts Ave., Boston 02115. Tickets start at $25 and are available at www.bgmc.org.
[From a News Release]