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Laura Benanti and Linda Benanti, Live In-Concert with Seth Rudetsky

If, like me, you’ve lost track of how many cast biographies in theatre programmes you’ve read over the years, an actor thanking their family for their unstinting and unflinching support (or words to that effect) is nothing new. Seeing that kind of love and support in action, however, is another matter altogether, and one would frankly have a heart of stone not to be moved in some way by Linda Benanti’s (pronounced ‘ba-naan-ti’ not ‘ba-nahn-ti’) ongoing encouragement of her Tony Award winner daughter Laura.

Laura and Linda - credit Alexa Brown.
Laura and Linda – credit Alexa Brown.

Laura will always be in the senior Benanti’s debt: Linda had stopped acting for a while in order to raise her daughters Laura and Marielle, and never returned to the Broadway stage after finishing the 1980-81 revival of Brigadoon. The word ‘sacrifice’ is used by Laura but not by her mother, although interestingly the mother did not display discomfort at the use of that word or make any attempt at correcting her flesh and blood.

Judging by the comments in the online chat for this concert, Linda wouldn’t be out of place if she were to succeed in trying to secure another Broadway role four decades after her last one. There were duets (perhaps inevitably) to enjoy, which worked well – whether they’ve performed together before wasn’t discussed in the conversation, but I venture to suggest they have, if only in large family gatherings. I found Linda mouthing lyrics as Laura sang them, just as she would have done many years ago, a poignant thing to witness – love in action, nothing more and nothing less.

Both Benantis are dyslexic, though it was well into adulthood before either became fully aware of what it involves. Mother and daughter spoke with some length about the sort of issues undiagnosed dyslexia had on their lives: even something as relatively straightforward as tying shoelaces as a child would take considerably longer than reasonably expected. Not knowing why affected Linda’s self-esteem, while for Laura, her mother’s encouragement perhaps shielded her from the worst effects.

Such was Linda’s commitment to giving Laura the best start in life possible that Laura was prohibited (by parental decree) from auditioning for professional roles in her childhood: Linda did not want her daughter exposed to too many external pressures while she was still discovering herself. This wasn’t, I hasten to add, a criticism of any parents who did let their children audition for a revival of Oliver! or Annie, but merely a decision taken that was thought to be the best for Laura at the time. With a dozen or so Broadway credits (plus touring productions and television shows) in adulthood, whether by default or design, it’s worked out well.

The elder Benanti is known for running a ‘voice studio’ from where she is in New Jersey, though the interview sections in this concert focused more on her previous theatre credits. She liked working with Yul Brynner, although she was aware of how he treated others he didn’t get on with, and she still recalls the details of meeting Judy Garland in person. A hugely entertaining synopsis of My Fair Lady, given by Laura, rounded off an evening that was as fascinating as it was delightful.

5 Star Rating

Review by Chris Omaweng

Sunday, May 16th Live at 3PM EST and Rebroadcast at 8PM EST


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