Interview with My Fair Lady star Laura Benanti
Tony Award winner Laura Benanti and Lincoln Center Theater are a match made in musical theatre heaven! The Broadway favorite returned to the boards on October 23, 2018, to take on yet another legendary role, adding another string to her bow and further cementing her legacy as a leading lady of the Great White Way. We're of course referring to the role of Eliza Doolittle in the hugely acclaimed revival of Lerner & Loewe's classic My Fair Lady and audiences will get the opportunity to experience this most "loverly" soprano on the stage of the Vivian Beaumont Theater for a limited engagement through to February 17, 2019.
To mark the occasion, the New York Theatre Guide was recently invited to Lincoln Center Theater to sit down with Ms. Benanti, where she talked British accents, the lack of roles for sopranos in new musicals, crying when she first met Rosemary Harris, only getting to rehearse with her co-star Harry Hadden-Paton on the day of her first performance, and her "pinch me" moments of My Fair Lady...
It’s lovely to meet you, Laura. Now, first things first: How’s the British accent coming along?
I guess this is my cue to use one, but I’m terrified! No, I think it’s coming along well. Harry Hadden-Paton said that it’s good, so I’m just gonna go with him. Unless he’s completely faking… (laughs)
Well, Brits can sometimes be quite tough critics when it comes to Americans putting on British accents, so coming from Mr. Hadden-Paton, that’s probably quite the compliment! Whenever I try and put on a cockney accent myself, I end up sounding like Dick Van Dyke in “Mary Poppins”…
(Laughs) The cockney [accent] is hard! Mostly because you use your tongue in a completely different way. Your tongue is a muscle and when you stress it so much, the vocal chords start to take over and it can be really hard on your voice. So, right now, the next phase of things is me trying to figure out how to maintain my vocal health whilst doing this incredibly challenging part.
We’ve grown accustomed to your face in splendid musical revivals before – a Tony Award win for Gypsy, Tony nominations for She Loves Me and Into the Woods, as well as roles in Nine and The Sound of Music. Do you prefer taking on these iconic roles of the past or do you prefer originating new roles in brand new musicals?
You know, as a soprano, that’s mostly what is available to me. Very few people actually write for sopranos because the popular music of today is belting. I have found that mostly my vocal tendency is toward revivals, but I would certainly be open to somebody writing me a show. I would love that more than anything!
Do you keep giving any of today’s musical composers a little nudge now and again?
Yeah! Certainly. Lin [-Manuel Miranda], Jason Robert Brown, Todd Almond, Shaina Taub and Jeanine Tesori. I’m like: “Anytime y’all wanna write something for me, I’m here!”
I suppose for a Broadway performer, every show provides its moments when you have to pinch yourself and you feel so blessed to be doing this job. What are those moments for you in My Fair Lady?
I’d say the very beginning when the stage rotates and I see the audience for the first time and they see me for the first time. Certainly “I Could’ve Danced All Night”… “Wouldn’t it Be Loverly”… What else? The curtain call – I feel such a sense of gratitude that we’ve all been on this journey together for three hours. Gosh! There’s too many to name. I mean, putting on the iconic outfit with the crazy hat at Ascot. The beautiful gown at the Ball. I’m basically naming everything, so basically every moment! (laughs)
You mentioned some of your costumes just then. Do any of your previous Broadway productions compare to the lavish, Tony Award-winning costumes you now get to wear at Lincoln Center Theater?
Well, Marti Peppi made me some gorgeous clothes in Gypsy, but Cathy Zuberman has always done me right. She’s such a glorious artist. She really is and she knows how to make you look your best. Not much can rival the costumes I get to wear in this.
The cast has already been together for a while but then Rosemary Harris joined shortly before you did. What’s it been like working together with her?
Well, the first time I ever met Rosemary, I started to cry. I had to pretend there was something in my eye. They have all been so warm and welcoming and so helpful. You know, Harry [Hadden-Paton] and I didn’t get to work together until the night I went into the show because he was off shooting “Downton Abbey”. So, he flew back on the Monday and we went on on Tuesday. So our first time rehearsing together was during the day on the Tuesday!
Crikey! There’s the motto: “It’ll be alright on the night!”
Yeah! It was legitimately crazy! And then it was alright on the night.
So, for those who haven’t yet seen this glorious revival at Lincoln Center Theater, now starring your good self, Laura, what can audiences expect from a trip to My Fair Lady?
This is definitely a My Fair Lady for the #TimesUp generation. Please don’t think you’re gonna come and see some creaky, old show. It’s beautifully staged. The costumes are glorious. I’m not speaking about myself, but the actors are phenomenal. The music – even if you don’t know that you’ve heard it, you definitely have heard it before. It’s in your bones. And the way that Bart Sher – our brilliant director – has chosen to end it is really so beautifully feminist. It speaks a lot to class. It speaks a lot to gender. I actually think it’s a very modern telling of a classic story. I don’t think anybody would be disappointed if they came to see it. There’s something for everyone.
My Fair Lady Tickets are available now for performances through to May 19, 2019.
(Headshot by Jenny Anderson)