How Tony Winner Laura Benanti Makes Her Eliza Doolittle Different

Interview   How Tony Winner Laura Benanti Makes Her Eliza Doolittle Different
 
What the star hopes to bring to her dream role in Broadway’s My Fair Lady at Lincoln Center Theater.

Laura Benanti still has all ten of her fingers.

The only reason for a quick count of her digits is that the Tony winner famously said she’d give her left pinky to play Eliza Doolittle. Now Benanti steps into the role in the Bartlett Sher–helmed production of My Fair Lady as the Cockney flower girl—and she’s keeping all of her fingers. At least for now.

“I’m not gonna chop it off until I’m called to do it,” she says, then adds: “We can sell it at the Broadway Flea Market next year!”

Long vocal about her desire to play Eliza, Benanti had accepted that the revival would happen without her a year ago when she decided to stay at home with her then-infant daughter rather than pursue the role. Then Sher called to ask if she’d like to come in for a limited time, an offer to which she enthusiastically agreed. “It’s a really important lesson in letting go and having faith,” she says. “If a door is going to open for you, it will open. You can’t pound it down.”

Though she famously replaced Rebecca Luker as Maria in The Sound of Music, Benanti had already been an ensemble member of that production. Here, she is stepping into an already smoothly running machine with very little chance to rehearse with anyone other than stage management. Also hampering Benanti’s rehearsal time is her daughter, who routinely declares, “No more voice, all done voice!” as Benanti practices her dialects.

Laura Benanti and Richard Chamberlain in <i>The Sound of Music</i>
Laura Benanti and Richard Chamberlain in The Sound of Music

“I have to have my friend come to the theatre just to run lines with me,” Benanti says with a laugh. “I can’t do it at home! But I’d rather just be with my daughter if I’m at home, anyway.”

Benanti raves about Ambrose’s performance and says she could never begin to replicate it. Instead, she’s looking forward to bringing her own brand of star power to the role. “I do feel [Eliza] survives through a combination of street smarts and a sense of humor,” she says. “So I’m looking forward to finding the joy and openness. It’s a trap I’m seeing that I could fall into, of darkness. So I’m looking forward to finding some light and fun to her.”

Now that Eliza Doolittle is checked off, what will fill the dream role slot? Benanti says she would love to do an ensemble television comedy, and then, when the time is right, try on some classic Sondheim: Fosca, Mrs. Lovett, Desiree Armfeldt. But, she adds, “Maybe someone will write something new. Maybe Jason Robert Brown will write something for me!”

Hopefully it won’t cost her a pinky.

Harry Hadden-Paton and Laura Benanti in <i>My Fair Lady</i>
Harry Hadden-Paton and Laura Benanti in My Fair Lady Joan Marcus
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