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Laura Benanti (born July 15, 1979) is a Tony Award winner and a three time Tony nominated American singing actress who has appeared in numerous Broadway theatremarker productions as well as television and film.

Biography

Early life

Laura Benanti was born in New York Citymarker, the daughter of Linda Wonneberger, a vocal coach and former actress, and Martin Vidnovic, a Broadwaymarker actor and singer. She is of Yugoslavian-German-Irish-Native American heritage. When Laura was young, her parents divorced and she moved to Kinnelonmarker, New Jerseymarker with her mother and her stepfather Salvatore Benanti, a psychotherapist, whose name she took and whom she has referred to as her father.

Benanti remembers being "very serious" and "a bit of an ugly duckling" as a child, and was intensely interested in musical theatre, which distanced her from other children. (In 2008, Benanti told The New York Times that she drew on this loneliness in her portrayal of the neglected Louise in Gypsy.) Though her parents refused to let Laura audition for professional theatre, Laura appeared in several high school and community productions, including Evita (as Peron's mistress), Follies (as Young Heidi), and Into the Woods (as Cinderella). At 16, Benanti played the title role in her high school production of Hello, Dolly! and won a Paper Mill Playhousemarker Rising Star Award for Outstanding Actress in a high school production. She graduated from Kinnelon High Schoolmarker in 1997.

Broadway career

In 1998, Paper Mill's then-artistic director Robert Johanson recommended Benanti for the role of Liesl in a Broadway revival of The Sound of Music. Benanti auditioned for the show's producers and was considered too mature-looking to play Liesl, but, after several call-backs, was signed at the age of 18 to play one of the nuns and to understudy Rebecca Luker as Maria. Benanti played the role for two weeks during Luker's vacation, and, at 19, took over the role when Luker left the production. Playbill's Michael Buckley later wrote that Benanti "was an absolutely wonderful Maria[...]As do others, I believe that had she opened in the show, Benanti would have been an overnight sensation." When she was cast in The Sound of Music, Benanti had attended New York Universitymarker for two weeks; the dean recommended she go on leave to take the job.

In 1999, Benanti appeared in the Broadway revue Swing!, for which she received a Tony nomination for Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Musical. In 2002, Benanti played Cinderella (a role she had played as a teenager) in the Broadway revival of Into the Woods, and received both a Tony nomination for Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Musical and a Drama Desk nomination for Outstanding Featured Actress in a Musical. During a mid-performance pratfall in Into the Woods, Benanti fractured her neck, herniating two discs directly onto her spinal cord and cutting off spinal fluid, a condition that sometimes leads to paralysis. The injury was misdiagnosed and Into the Woods producers asked Benanti not to mention her injury; when she began missing performances due to neck problems, rumors spread that Benanti was behaving unprofessionally, something that she calls "really hurtful. I had a serious injury and there was absolutely no way I could have done the show. I tried to. I tried to go back and do it but I physically couldn't." Benanti was eventually replaced in the show by Erin Dilly. Eight months after her initial injury, Benanti was rediagnosed and received surgery that could have damaged her voice but was successful, though as of 2005 she still experienced neck pain and myelopathy.

Three weeks after undergoing spinal surgery, Benanti entered previews in March 2003 for the Broadway revival of Nine, in which she played Claudia, a movie star who inspires Guido, a director played by Antonio Banderas. In Fall 2003, she declined an offer to play Eileen Sherwood opposite Donna Murphy in the Broadway revival of the Leonard Bernstein musical Wonderful Town, opting instead to appear in her first non-musical Broadway role, as Rosamund Plinth in Richard Greenberg's play The Violet Hour. Benanti left the production in previews due to exhaustion and because the part "just wasn't a right fit".

In Spring 2006, she returned to Broadway as Julia Sullivan in The Wedding Singer; the show closed in December 2006. In July 2007, Benanti played in a three-week limited run of the musical Gypsy at the New York City Center as Louise, alongside Patti LuPone as Rose and Boyd Gaines as Herbie. In March 2008, the production transferred to Broadway, where it ran until January 2009 and received widespread critical acclaim. Benanti's performance as Louise was praised, with The New York Times's Ben Brantley declaring it "the performance of her career", and she won several awards, including a Tony for Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Musical, a Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Featured Actress in a Musical, and an Outer Critics Circle Award for Outstanding Featured Actress in a Musical.

Benanti appeared in The Public Theatermarker's world premiere production of Christopher Durang's play Why Torture Is Wrong, And the People Who Love Them, from April 6, 2009 to April 26.

Next for Benanti is the Lincoln Center Theatermarker production of Sarah Ruhl's In the Next Room beginning October 22, 2009, opening November 19, 2009 at the Lyceum Theatre.

Benanti has also appeared in the World AIDS Day concerts of Pippin and Children of Eden. These concerts were co-founded by her best friend, Jamie McGonnigal and former Miss America Kate Shindle.

Television and film

In addition to stage roles, Benanti was a regular on the short-lived FX Networks sitcom Starved (2005), which received mixed reviews but which Benanti described as "a good experience. I got a lot of camera experience, which was something I just hadn't had." A year later, she appeared in two films: Take the Lead, in which she reunited with her Nine co-star Antonio Banderas as his love-sick assistant, and Falling for Grace, in which she played a princess. In 2008, Benanti had a recurring role on the ABC television series Eli Stone. Despite her forays into screen work, Benanti remains devoted to the stage, and has stated that "musicals are a great American art form. We've got apple pie, jazz and musical theater. I want to do this my whole life."

Recordings

Laura appears on the original cast albums of each of her Broadway roles, as well as compilation albums of Stephen Schwartz and Maury Yeston. She also appears as a guest artist on the Gay Men's Chorus of Washington, D.C.'s live album, You've Got to Be Carefully Taught: The Songs of Hammerstein & Sondheim, taken from a performance at the Kennedy Centermarker in June 2002. She can now be heard on the cast album of Gypsy, which was released in August 2008 from Time/Life Records, and on the new studio cast album of Rodgers and Hammerstein's Allegro, which was released by Sony Classics in February 2009. A songwriter and guitarist, Benanti has written songs privately since at least the early 2000s; in 2005, she said that she was working on a folk-rock solo CD, though "Musical theatre is my first love[...]I want to take my music and orchestrate it in a kind of old fashioned style, and take some standards and 'popularize' them—do a true crossover. I'm working on it."

Personal life

Benanti met Chris Barron, lead singer of the Spin Doctors, in the early 2000s; they married on July 25, 2005, and divorced in 2006. In September 2007, Benanti married the actor Steven Pasquale, with whom she had appeared in the 2005 World AIDS Day "dream cast" concert of The Secret Garden.

References

  1. Rosati, Nancy. "Spotlight on Laura Benanti", Talkin' Broadway, 2000. Retrieved on 2008-06-29.
  2. Buckley, Michael. "STAGE TO SCREENS: Chatting with Stage and Screen Star Laura Benanti", Playbill, 2005-08-28. Retrieved on 2008-06-29.
  3. Singer, Barry. "THEATER; With a Song in Her Heart, Taking On the Stage (Again)", The New York Times, 2001-01-28. Retrieved on 2008-06-29.
  4. McGee, Celia. "Sing Out, Laura. It’s Your Turn.", The New York Times, 2008-03-23. Retrieved on 2008-06-29.
  5. Klein, Alvin. "JERSEY FOOTLIGHTS; A Girl Named Maria", The New York Times. Retrieved on 2008-06-30.
  6. Fradkin, Lori. "Laura Benanti on Stripping in ‘Gypsy’ and Her Delighted Husband", New York magazine, 2008-03-28. Retrieved on 2008-06-30.
  7. Rosati, Nancy. "Update Interview with Laura Benanti", Talkin' Broadway, 2006. Retrieved on 2008-06-30.
  8. Gans, Andrew. "The Wedding Is Off: New Musical Wedding Singer to Close in December", Playbill.com, 2006-10-25. Retrieved on 2008-06-29.
  9. Brantley, Ben. "Curtain Up! It’s Patti’s Turn at ‘Gypsy’", The New York Times, 2008-03-28. Retrieved on 2008-06-29.
  10. "Arts, Briefly", The New York Times, 2009-02-12. Retrieved on 2009-02-15.
  11. [1]lct.org


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