30 Seconds With… Laura Benanti

In this weekly featureWCBS culture critic Jim Taylor shares 30 seconds with the theatre stars and upstarts of NYC. From Broadway to Off-off, Jim tracks down the talent and gets them to spill just enough for our collectively shortened attention spans.

Laura Benanti won a Tony a couple of years back for her inspired performance in Gypsy. You may know her more recently as the rather inept group therapy leader in the ill-fated Matthew Perry TV project Go On. All this week Benanti is performing at Broadway nightclub 54 Below.

Jim Taylor: Swanky place.

Laura Benanti: Yes, first time here. I’ve been trying to get here for such a long time and so I’m very excited.

JT: You call this cabaret show of yours “an eclectic collection.” How so?

LB: It’s a mix of songs. Some standards, some new songs I’ve written. I wanted to take musical theater and American standards as well as popular music and arrange them in a similar vein. So that we’re taking from all walks of musical life and making it similar. And then I’m just silly. Telling silly stories. I don’t have a lot of set banter; I like to be in the moment and work with the audience. That’s the most fun in performing live. I like to be spontaneous — the most fun part of performing live is the audience.

JT: You’ve said when you’re acting there are times when it’s “out-of-body,” that you’re floating above yourself, watching. Does that happen in cabaret?

LB: Sometimes I have that weird out-of-body experience, but what I like my shows to feel like is that the audience is just entering my living room and I’m telling them stories and singing to them. So I try to be as present as possible. I enjoy being myself.

Laura Benanti being herself, through Saturday at 54 Below.