broadway-star-laura-benanti-will-finally-perform-for-segerstrom-center-fans-on-saturday

It’s been a circuitous journey and certainly not one anyone could have imagined, but on Saturday Laura Benanti finally will sing for audiences of the Segerstrom Center for the Arts.

It just won’t be in Samueli Theater, where her planned concerts were postponed three times over recent years, most recently because of COVID-19 restrictions. So rather than her scheduled April dates in Costa Mesa, the Tony-winning actress will sing and banter from a Manhattan theater with ticketholders watching the livestream.

“I always say in these shows I want people to feel like I’m in their living rooms. This time I actually will be,” Benanti says with a touch of wonderment.

Her show, the second of a three-part series called “Live from the West Side: Women of Broadway,” benefits more than 20 not-for-profit arts organizations across the country.

Taking refuge in her bedroom from her 3-year-old daughter for a Zoom conversation, Benanti says she’s working relentlessly during the pandemic. Since March she’s been filming new and ongoing television projects, recording her first studio album, appearing as Melania Trump on “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert,” and executive-producing a scripted musical special for HBO Max.

Stepping onto a stage for a full concert to a faceless audience is uncharted territory.

“To be singing in a theater, I think I’ll only understand the emotions once I’m there,” she says. “I have a feeling it’ll feel really intense.”

While she packs her days with TV projects, performing live remains her first and most meaningful passion.

“Theater is my greatest love, despite doing a lot of TV and other stuff,” she says. “And frankly, doing these shows, doing these concerts, they’re like my absolutely number one favorite thing to do. It combines everything I love.

“It combines music, interacting with people, improvisational humor and goin’ with the flow.”

Tony Award-winning Broadway performer Laura Benanti will perform in a livestream concert Saturday to raise money for the Segerstrom Center for the Arts and other arts organizations adversely affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. (Photo by Jenny Anderson)

Benanti, who won her Tony for the 2008 revival of “Gypsy,” has charmed audiences in countless musicals, including “My Fair Lady,” “The Sound of Music,” “She Loves Me” and “Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown.”

She promises Saturday’s show will feature many of her favorite Broadway songs, accompanied by her longtime pianist, Todd Almond. They’ll be joined by jazz guitarist Pasquale Grasso for several songs from her self-titled album.

As for singing to an invisible crowd, Benanti says she’ll miss the connection in the theater, but isn’t worried.

“I’m really comfortable being myself. Not all actors are, and I really wasn’t always,” she says. “For better or worse, I’m a silly person, so I’m just happy to sort of enjoy myself.”

Benanti resists looking for positives during the pandemic. She and her husband both lost their grandmothers to coronavirus, and a friend of hers died.

“It’s a challenging thing for me sometimes to talk about the silver lining when I know so many people have died and have suffered.”

The actress keeps an active profile on social media, where she blends her off-beat humor, personal struggles as a modern mom and her passions about injustice. But onstage she remains politically neutral, especially today when audiences hunger for joy and connection.

She also stays mindful of the evening’s cause.

“The fact that it’s benefiting so many not-for-profit theaters, which are in dire straits right now, just reminds me of the power and importance of art,” she says.

“This is meant to be a fundraiser for them. This is meant to bring the theaters back to life.”

So when asked if her Melania might show up during the concert, Benanti says she was considering it, but seemingly changed her mind during the Zoom interview.

“I would hate to bring anything negative or controversial into these theaters’ lives. I don’t think I will. I had been planning on it. I know what I believe; I know what my value system is.

“I know that I don’t preach at people. I just don’t want the theater companies punished for those beliefs.”

Laura Benanti

What: “Live from the West Side: Women of Broadway” benefit series for not-for-profit arts organizations

When: 5 p.m. Pacific time, Saturday, Nov. 14

Where: Livestream link emailed to ticket holders

Tickets: $30 for Benanti’s show alone or $50 for a two-concert package that also features Vanessa Williams (Dec. 5)

Information: 714-556-2787; scfta.org

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By Arlene Huff

Arlene Huff is the founding member of Golden State Online. Before that She was a general assignment reporter. A native Californian, she graduated from the University of California with a degree in medical anthropology and global health. She currently lives in Los Angeles.

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