By Christine Ehren
21 Feb 2002
"Do you know what you wish?
Are you certain what you wish is what you want?"
In Into the Woods, Merle Louise as Cinderella's Mother originally sang these words to Kim Crosby's Cinderella, but with the new revised revival, things are playing a bit differently. Laura Benanti, the Tony-nominated star of Swing! and The Sound of Music, sings both Cinderella and Cinderella's Mother.
How is this accomplished? "An altered image of me is projected onto a screen. It's basically my face and they blended it into the trees. They wanted that family resemblence," Benanti said. While singing the part of her character's mother, Benanti said, "I try to endow the image with a little of my mother."
Benanti, a 22-year-old New Jersey girl with several theatrical credits behind her including leads in two Broadway shows, is also hard at work on her first solo album. Although the star is well-loved for her renditions of classic tunes like "My Favorite Things" and "Skylark," she promises her upcoming album will be composed entirely of her own songs.
"It's completly not musical theatre," she said, describing her singer-songwriter style as a combination of Tori Amos ("I come from a piano background"), Melissa Etheridge ("but grittier, bluesy") and the electronica of Welsh singer-songwriter David Gray.
Benanti expects to release the album within the year. "It's one thing I've been working on out here [in L.A.]. And Vanessa [co-star Williams of recording fame] has been really kind in introducing me to people."
While she won't say "cheesy" ("the word cheesy makes me want to kill someone"), Benanti recognizes a certain reputation that musical theatre performers suffer from — that they are dorky song-and-dance men and women, stuck in some 1950s idealized version of, say, Oklahoma!. "Musical theatre performers aren't seen as their whole person. People my age need to see more of them, but in different ways. The genre will become more interesting if the people in it are more interesting," she said.
So, she, like Alice Ripley and Adam Pascal, is exploring a music career outside standard Broadway fare. But it is as Maria and as Ann Hampton Callaway's fellow female vocalist and now as the Sondheim's Cinderella that Benanti has made her biggest mark.
In these few roles, Benanti has established herself as a future Broadway superstar, a diva in training. With such fantastic success, she intimately understands the irony in her self-penned song "Supergirl": "I promise we'll go flying/as soon as I pick myself up off the ground."
Into the Woods plays at Los Angeles' Ahmanson Theatre through March 24. The Stephen Sondheim-James Lapine musical arrives at Broadway's Broadhurst Theatre April 13 for an opening April 25.