If you’re lucky enough to see Laura Benanti in any of her upcoming concerts, she kindly requests that you leave your perceptions about cabaret at the door. The word “cabaret,” she says, carries antiquated and serious undertones.
“It’s very different from what our show is,” she says.
The Tony Award-winning actress performs “Tales from Soprano Isle,” on Saturday, Sept. 28, in the Krasnoff Theater at the Tilles Center for the Performing Arts in Brookville. The show, she says, is a continuation of a joke she made in her debut live album, “In Constant Search of the Right Kind of Attention: Live at 54 Below.”
“[On that] I had said that sopranos are going to be belted off the face of the earth and set off to sea,” Benanti says. “I joked that sopranos are becoming an endangered species, and I’m sort of carrying the torch.”
In “Tales from Soprano Isle,” Benanti will sing songs from her Broadway repertoire, including “My Fair Lady,” “She Loves Me” and “The Sound of Music.” She also shares humorous anecdotes she has experienced both on and off the stage and screen. Absent of the elaborate sets and costumes one would expect in a musical theater production, the stage set-up is simple — Benanti accompanied by her “brilliant” musical director, Todd Almond, on piano.
“It’s very front-footed in comedy,” she explains. “It’s like stand-up but with singing.”
Benanti’s favorite song she performs in the show is Tori Amos’ “Take To The Sky,” during which she plays on a drum. “That catches people by surprise,” she says.
Her favorite stories to tell are any involving the legendary Patti LuPone, whom she co-starred with in the 2008 Broadway revival of “Gypsy” and “Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown.”
“Tales from Soprano Isle” has been performed all over the world for the past couple of years in various forms, but one thing that remains constant is Benanti’s effort to make her audiences feel at home.
“I want people to feel like they’ve just come over to my house,” she says. “Even though I’m an actor, we’re all just humans, and people seem to relate to the show; they relate to the candor.”
The format allows Benanti to communicate with her audience and play off their reactions to certain jokes or stories, creating an experience that’s less performative and more collaborative. And while much of the show is structured, Benanti admits she spices it up with improvisations, depending on the crowd.
“People are surprised at how conversational it feels, which can be surprising because they’re used to something a little more removed,” she says. “Humor is a big part of who I am ... Of all the things that I do, this is my favorite.”
For the past 22 years, Benanti has enjoyed a highly celebrated career on both the Broadway stage and the small screen. At 18 she was cast as Maria in the 1998 revival of “The Sound of Music.” In her rendition as Gypsy Rose Lee, she snagged her first Tony. Most recently she portrayed Eliza Doolittle in Lincoln Center’s acclaimed revival of “My Fair Lady.”
Her television credits include recurring and guest appearances on “Supergirl,” “Nashville,” “The Good Wife,” “Younger” and “Law & Order: SVU.” She can also be seen playing First Lady Melania Trump on “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert” occasionally.
Last year, Benanti released “Singing You Home: Children’s Songs for Family Reunification.” The English/Spanish album features tracks from fellow Broadway greats such as Lin-Manuel Miranda, Josh Groban, Idina Menzel, Audra McDonald, and Kristin Chenoweth. A portion of the proceeds supports the Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services,which helps reunite and support families separated at the U.S.-Mexico border.
“It’s so easy for us to all see each other as other, instead of finding common ground,” Benanti says. “But here, for 90 minutes, we can communicate in a way that feels familiar, and realize we’re more similar than we think we are.”
Audiences will have two chances to see Benanti in “Tales from Soprano Isle” at the Krasnoff Theater — at 7:30 and 9:30 p.m. — on Sept. 28. Tickets can be purchased by calling the Tilles Center box office at (516) 299-3100 or online at www.ticketmaster.com or www.tillescenter.org.