One of the fairest ladies to emerge on the Broadway scene in the past decade is Laura Benanti, who is wrapping up the current season of Marilyn Levinson’s Bay Area Cabaret at the Venetian Room this weekend.
The beautiful brunette, a true Broadway baby, celebrated her first birthday just months before her parents, Linda Wonneberger and Tony nominee Martin Vidnovic, opened the 1980 revival of “Brigadoon.” The couple divorced and Wonneberger moved to New Jersey, where she married psychotherapist Salvatore Benanti.
“I think of it as growing up having two dads who molded me in different ways,” says Benanti, who also grew up with the siren song of Manhattan, N.Y., always in the air.
“New York definitely was the Emerald City,” she says. “There’s actually a video of me when I am 11 years old. They asked me, ‘What do you want?’ and I say, ‘All I want is an agent and I just want to move to New York, as if they were abusing me, horribly. Then I say, ‘I guess I’ll have to wait to get an agent until I’m 18!’ Which was very prescient because I was 18 when I got my first job on Broadway, and that is when I got an agent. I guess the power of the mind is a strong thing and I willed it so.”
Benanti understudied Rebecca Luker as Maria in “The Sound of Music” in 1998 and has appeared in eight more Broadway shows in just more than a decade since, scoring four Tony Award nominations for featured musical performances and winning for playing the title role in “Gypsy” opposite Patti LuPone as Rose.
In addition to her stage credits, Benanti made her film debut opposite Antonio Banderas and has had recurring roles on television series such as “Eli Stone,” “Law & Order: SVU” and last season’s short-lived “The Playboy Club,” where she was featured in a few musical sequences as the head Bunny.
She’s modest about her accomplishments. “Every so often I get billed as a Broadway veteran and I think, ‘Guys! I’m only 32!’ I’m not a veteran.”
Hopeful about her new series, “Go On” with Matthew Perry, premiering later this year, Benanti is also pragmatic about career turns such as “Playboy” getting axed after just three episodes. “I really have tried to learn over the past 14 years that a job is a job, that it doesn’t define who I am.”
Her cabaret act is called, not surprisingly, “Let Me Entertain You” and Benanti says, “I have to say I think doing this show is my favorite thing that I do in my career right now.”
IF YOU GO
Presented by Bay Area Cabaret
Where: Venetian Room, Fairmont Hotel, 950 Mason St., S.F.
When: 8 p.m. Saturday
Tickets: $40 to $45
Contact: (415) 392-4400, www.cityboxoffice.com