Like Cinderella, her Tony-nominated role in Into the Woods, Laura Benanti is a young lady who stole hearts the first time she stepped into the limelight. In the spring of 1999, she burst onto Broadway, a radiant nineteen-year-old Maria in director Susan Schulman's The Sound of Music revival. Although Laura’s youthful success is like a fairy tale, the resemblance to that particular character stops there. Cinderella ran away, but when this singing actress runs, it’s from one to the next in a series of lauded performances in Swing! (for which she was also a Tony nomination), Time and Again, Encore's Wonderful Town, and now Into the Woods.
She's also squeezed in a turn as Shakespeare's Perdita at Williamstown and readings for a Broadway bound comedy with songs by the Gershwins.
Eight times a week, as Cinderella transformed, Benanti dons ideal princess attire: a white gown with puffy sleeves, layers of petticoats, a tiara, and the coveted "slipper[s] as pure as gold." (The fairy godmother who provided this ballgown is costume designer Susan Hilferty, who received another of Into the Woods ten nominations.) Recently, Laura visited Badgley Mischka's Seventh Avenue studios for the last fitting of the gown she will wear for the Tony Awards ceremony. Best friend Michael Benjamin Washington, who plays Eddie in Mamma Mia!, was there along with Laura's manager Emily Gerson Saines to give the final seal of approval.
For the biggest night in America's theatre calendar, designers James Mischka and Mark Badgley have stitched up another of the retro glamorous evening gowns that make them a favorite with young Hollywood. The plan for Laura was a dress that would be youthful, elegant, and a whole different look than her Cinderella ballgown. (They also designed her sexy opening night dress.) She emerged from the dressing room a vision in red lace. The form-fitting scarlet dress is subtly brocaded with paillettes and embroidery. Its slim lines are set off by cap sleeves, a subtle vertical side flare of lace, and a small fishtail train.
In repose she looked like the slender and pale heroine of a Merchant-Ivory film. But Laura's bright smile is just one of the accessories that give her finery a contemporary twinkle. Her Fred Leighton necklace is a string of translucent diamond beads ending in a magnificent 8.6 carat stone. Matching earrings float at her ears. With a sassy touch of pink among the red, her tiny beaded bag looks like a flower. And what about the shoes? Va va voom. Sexy high heeled sandals with beaded straps. About 10:30 PM on Sunday night, immediately before the Best Supporting Actress in a Musical is announced, Laura will be in costume, performing in a scene from Into the Woods. There will be only thirty seconds before the camera pans to each of the nominees, but she is determined to be stunning in gown, jewels, shoes and hair. How fortunate that the Badgley Mischka philosophy is "One zip and you're gorgeous!"