Laura Benanti stars in 'a love letter to New York City'

AP News
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Posted: Mar 04, 2015 11:50 AM
Laura Benanti stars in 'a love letter to New York City'

NEW YORK (AP) — People recognize Laura Benanti on the street these days. They just don't know why.

"They'll be like, 'You're the girl from the thing!' And then I just go, 'Yeah!'" the actress said, laughing. "Then they say, 'Which thing?' And I answer, 'I don't know. I don't know what you watch, darling.'"

Forgive some confusion when it comes to pinning down this very special talent who has mastered theater, TV, comedy, drama, YouTube, musicals, cabaret and concerts. She's even working on a book.

Benanti can do so many things well that her manager recently gave her a choice: we can focus on one thing or keep doing everything and let people catch up. They chose to let us catch up.

"I have a lot of things that I like to do," she said. "Not that I'm necessarily amazing in all of them, but there's a lot of things I like to do and I feel lucky and grateful that I'm getting to do all of them."

This month she's pushing the boundaries of her career even further by headlining the "New York Spring Spectacular" at the 5,800-seat Radio City Music Hall.

Benanti sings and dances alongside some 40 Rockettes and massive puppets in a show led by Tony-winning director Diane Paulus and Tony winning director and choreographer Warren Carlyle. "Dancing with the Stars" dancers Derek Hough co-stars.

"This feels like to me a combination of the biggest, broadest musical you've ever seen and Cirque du Soleil," she said in an interview in her Manhattan apartment. "It's aptly named — it is a spectacular."

Benanti plays a billionaire CEO who buys a tour company and hopes to replace it with virtual-reality experiences. A veteran guide shows her the error of her ways.

The show features many New York City landmarks — a 26-foot tall talking and moving Statue of Liberty and the lion statues guarding the Public Library, are just a few — and Benanti calls it "a love letter to New York City."

She would love if the show rekindles a love for human interaction in this hyper-digital age. "I'm hoping that people will leave the theater and put their devices away and then go explore the city together as a family," she said.

Carlyle, who has long admired Benanti from afar, has finally gotten to work with her and called her "special," ''fearless" and "generous."

"She's a true leading lady, in the real old-fashioned sense of the world," he said. "I love being in her presence. She makes me feel like anything is possible."

Though the show has plenty of eye-popping moving parts, Benanti has the most admiration for her leggy co-stars — those high-kicking Rockettes.

"They are superheroes. They are artists and they are athletes," she said. "I challenge any football player or basketball player — those are the only sports I know, I'm sorry — to come up against these women, who are giving you heart and soul and kicks for days."

One of the Rockettes, who has two children, recently gave birth to a third and Benanti has watched her juggle motherhood and dancing. "Anytime I'm like, 'I'm tired,' I'm like, 'No you're not. You're absolutely not tired.'"

Carlyle said Benanti's respect for the Rockettes makes sense: "She's an extremely, extremely gifted lady but she also turns up and works very hard. There's no sense of entitlement. The Rockettes are very similar — they're very disciplined and they're highly trained, highly skilled women. Laura is able to appreciate that."

Benanti, who won a Tony in the Broadway revival of "Gypsy," has seen her profile rise of late thanks to TV appearances on "Nurse Jackie," ''Nashville," ''The Good Wife," ''Go On" and NBC's live version of "The Sound of Music." She also has a CD, "In Constant Search of the Right Kind of Attention."

Benanti fans will get even more soon: She's landed the role of Supergirl's mother on an upcoming CBS show and she'll be back on Broadway in spring 2016 opposite Josh Radnor in the musical "She Loves Me."

She credits the uptick in interest to sheer momentum and from her letting go of the notion of remaining just a serious theater actress. Now she tweets with abandon and makes hysterical viral videos.

"I just got more comfortable with myself and I realized, if I'm not interested in being Julia Roberts, which I'm not, then why don't I just enjoy my life and calm down and stop trying to claw my ways toward some invisible dragon?" she said. "It made me a much happier person and, ironically, people were like, 'Oh, hi!'"

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Online: http://www.laurabenanti.com

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Mark Kennedy is at http://twitter.com/KennedyTwits