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Review: Laura Benanti Lights Up the Final Episode of BGMC's 'Celebrity Spotlight' Series

by Kilian Melloy
Thursday Oct 22, 2020
Laura Benanti
Laura Benanti  (Source:Screencap/YouTube/Boston Gay Men's Chorus)

Broadway star Laura Benanti lends her glorious soprano voice to the Boston Gay Men's Chorus for Episode 3 of the "Celebrity Spotlight" series. This final episode presents Benanti's performances from the Chorus' "Smile!" concerts, which took place at Boston's Symphony Hall in June of 2015.

Full disclosure: This correspondent is a longtime member of the BGMC, though I am currently on an extended hiatus from the Chorus for several years. Ordinarily I wouldn't review a project I'd had any part in, but I make an exception in this case because the series focuses on the work of guest performers who have joined the Chorus for various past concerts. These reviews share that focus.

As in previous installments, Music Director Reuben M. Reynolds II and his husband, Bill Casey, reminisce about working with their guest performer, sharing personal anecdotes and also providing an overview of the guest's career. Benanti's resume includes a dazzling array of beloved musicals - everything from "My Fair Lady" and "She Loves Me" to "Gypsy" and "The Sound of Music," with several selections in this 48-minute video being drawn from that last work.

Indeed, the first number - the title song from the Rodgers & Hammerstein classic, in an arrangement by BGMC Principal Accompanist and Assistant Music Director Chad Weirick - establishes the tone for what's to come, and set a high bar that subsequent songs surpass.

Much of that tone comes from Benanti herself, whose warmth radiates even on video. Instantly connecting with the audience, Benanti, wearing an elegant white dress (that she frets, in a recurring comedic motif, is too short; but, never mind, she's taken precautions to ensure that it's nothing too provocative), shares her own personal story of singing with gay men's choruses, starting with the chorus in Washington, D.C. to which her uncle belonged.

It's a sweet and lovely moment, but Benanti's voice is still more so, and the remastered audio delivers each note with gratifying clarity. When Casey talks about his "fanboy geekdom for Benanti," there's no mystery as to what he's talking about.

Laura Benanti  (Source:Screencap/YouTube/Boston Gay Men's Chorus)

Two other songs from "The Sound of Music" are also in the set; "I Have Dreamed," in an arrangement by Alex Rybeck, is special to Benanti, we learn, because it was a song she performed in a duet with her uncle for the Washington Gay Men's Chorus, only a few weeks before he died. The show's capstone is a moving rendition of "Climb every Mountain," arranged by Weirick, In between, the show features her gorgeous reading of "I Could Have Danced All Night," an acoustic, and highly informal, performance of Kander & Ebb's "A Quiet Thing," and a medley in which Benanti swings with assured fluency from song to song and style to style. (Bill and Reuben refrain from spoiling the contents of the medley, and I will follow suit, but take note of Bill's characterization: This is an "inappropriate medley," meaning Benanti is singing selections that someone if her age and register usually would not perform. The effect is meant to be comic and striking - it's both here, as well as being sometimes surprisingly effective, especially when she throws in a couple of pop gems.)

More humorous, though, is Benanti's inclusion of Frederick Lowe and Alan Jay Lerner's "I'm Glad I'm Not Young Anymore," which, Benanti shares, she was inspired to include after overhearing a remarkably vacuous conversation at a Starbuck's.

Benanti's comments to the audience are the perfect framing device. Funny, witty, and warm, she has the whole house wrapped around her little finger from the very start. It's no surprise that Benanti came up with the idea to brighten the lives of youth across America in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis by inviting teens whose high school musical productions got shut down to post and share their performances - an invitation that drew such a response that it was featured on "Good Morning America."

None of the material included in this episode has been released before, so seeing it here - skillfully edited, with remastered audio, and including clips from various performances of Benanti's, including her gentle parody of Melania Trump on Steven Colbert's "A Late Show" - isn't just the best way to see it; it's the only way.

The Boston Gay Men's Chorus' "Celebrity Spotlight Series - Episode 3: Laura Benanti" premiered on YouTube at 7 pm on March 22.

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Assistant Arts Editor. He also reviews theater for WBUR. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.

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