STAGE TO SCREENS: Good Grief! Tony Award Winner Laura Benanti Finds a Hit in NBC's "Go On"

By Christopher Wallenberg
22 Nov 2012

Benanti in the 2002 revival of Into the Woods.
Photo by Joan Marcus
You've been performing on stage since you were a very young and made your Broadway debut when you were just 18. Your Playbill bio used to begin, "Once upon a time, there was a girl who dreamed of being on Broadway. . . " Having moved into the world of television recently, has it been difficult being away from the New York theatre world after working there for so many years?
LB: I've been very lucky to be able to do what I want to do for a living in various branches of the entertainment industry. But I love Broadway. I miss it. I miss the audiences. I miss the camaraderie. I miss being backstage in a ridiculous costume. I miss Tree Sarvay, my dresser. I miss everything. I miss New York. I miss singing. I'm constantly thinking about what I could do next, like on a hiatus. Could I do even like eight weeks somewhere? Because it's in my blood. I'm a gypsy. So I miss it. Not to in any way denigrate my job right now, because I'm so happy — and I love my job so much. But I certainly miss the Life Force that is Broadway.

But television was always something you wanted to explore as an actress?
LB: Well, I wanted to try my hand at a different medium. I've been blessed to achieve my childhood dream of being on Broadway when I was 18 years old. I did like eight or nine Broadway shows and won a Tony. And it was so unbelievably exciting. But I just thought, you know, before I age myself out of Hollywood, why don't I try my hand at a medium that I've always been interested in? So that was definitely a conscious decision on my part and one that I was really lucky to be sort of welcomed into. Because that doesn't always happen.

Benanti in In the Next Room or the vibrator play.
photo by Joan Marcus

Even though you came up in musical theatre, first getting your start at the Paper Mill Playhouse in New Jersey, I love that you've also chosen to do all these really challenging straight plays — from Christopher Durang's Why Torture Is Wrong, and the People Who Love Them, to Sarah Ruhl's In the Next Room (or the vibrator play). Why was it important for you to pursue parts in plays, in addition to musicals, as your career started to take off ?
LB: Well, when I was 20 years old, I did The Winter's Tale at Williamstown. I played Kate Burton's daughter. [Perdita, daughter of Hermione] And that was a conscious decision on my part. I didn't want to be solely identified as a singer. Not that there's anything wrong with that. But I wanted to cultivate and hone my skills as an actress. Because for me, my favorite actors are actors first — and then singers. Patti LuPone obviously being one of them. The people I admire the most and the people who have the most diverse careers are those who can go back and forth between musicals and plays and television. I just wanted to be as well-rounded as possible. And it's easy to get put into a box in this business. We all want to sort of quantify everything and go, "Okay, this is what you do. And this is what you do." And I didn't want that to happen to me. So I took an active role, along with my agents and my manager to make sure that I continue to diversify myself.

Do you think that doing straight plays helped make you a better actor for the next time you chose to do a musical?
LB: A hundred percent. For me, there's nothing more frustrating than seeing someone who has a beautiful voice not be able to tell the story. Because the thing that I love about musicals is that when you no longer have the words to speak, you sing them or you dance them. But to me, it's only moving if the foundation of the acting is there. Otherwise I might as well just go to a concert. You know, I didn't go to school or college for acting. So it's very important to me to study and take classes and to hone my skills as an actor.