Laura Benanti’s In Constant Search of the Right Kind of Attention joins the growing catalogue of excellent cabaret performances recorded live at the long gone Studio 54’s contemporary descendant, 54 Below. The Broadway and TV star, recently seen as Elsa Schrader in NBC’s live performance of The Sound of Music, is in top form as she works her way through a repertoire of songs old and new with characteristic good humor and stylish panache. An elegant soprano, she sings with authority, and if great vocals are not enough, she handles the obligatory between song patter like the seasoned pro she is. Besides, she plays the ukulele, what more can you ask?
She opens with “I’m Old Fashioned,” a Jerome Kern and Johnny Mercer tune written for the movie You Were Never Lovelier. The set goes on to feature classic numbers like Lerner and Loewe’s “On the Street Where You Live” from My Fair Lady (which she calls “On the Street Where I Live) and their “I’m Glad I’m Not Young Anymore” from GiGi. More modern classics include her stunning take on Joni Mitchell’s “He Comes for Conversation” and a compelling, dramatic treatment of Harry Chapin’s “Mr. Tanner.”
There is some new work from her musical director and “all around everything,” Todd Almond. He joins her for a medley of “Tilly’s Aria” and “Frank and Tilly Make Love,” and she also does his “Spring is Coming.” For something of a change of pace, she puts together two pop pieces in an Almond arrangement of Ellie Goulding’s “Starry Eyed” and Lana Del Ray’s “Video Games.” Her set concludes with two songs associated with perhaps the best known of her theatrical successes, “Unusual Way” from Nine and “Model Behavior” from Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown. Her role in the latter won her a Tony Nomination, as well as a Drama Desk Award and an Outer Critics Circle Award.
Her patter ranges from her thanking the venerable Chita Rivera for her advice on taking bows, to Antonio Banderas’ perspiration, to simple commentary on the unusually frigid weather and her childhood passion for the musical theater. From her opening announcement identifying herself as another famous diva and warning the audience to turn off their cell phones, to the conclusion when she explains why she is not leaving the stage before the encore, she enchants the audience with her winning personality.
Did I mention she plays the ukulele?