There is one role that Tony Award-winner Laura Benanti cherishes above all others: Mother.
The My Fair Lady star gave birth to daughter Ella Rose in 2017. “Becoming a mom changed me in every possible way,” Benanti told me by phone. “It crystallized what is important and not important.”
She began to think back on all the sacrifices her own mother had made for her.
Linda Benanti gave up her own professional career on Broadway shortly after Laura’s birth in 1979. “To be the kind of mom that was meaningful to her at the time, she decided that she was going to stop being a professional actress,” Laura recalls.
As Laura was preparing for her own journey into motherhood, she was determined to get her mom – now a successful vocal coach in New Jersey – back on the professional stage.
“I’ve always been profoundly aware of the sacrifices my mother made because I know how talented she is and I know how much she loved performing. She has given me such a beautiful life and the least I can do is help her get back to doing what she loves and does so brilliantly.”
Thus was born Laura and Linda Benanti: The Story Goes On, a cabaret show the duo has performed at numerous venues across the country. Their next performance brings them to Wolf Trap for two shows on Saturday, March 9.
The mother-daughter pair, who share a smart and delightful sense of humor, sing songs from their favorite shows and banter about life. “It’s really informal,” Benanti said. “We want people to feel like they are sitting in our living room listening to us sing.”
Benanti’s own professional life post-baby has been very different than her mother’s. “I have the support to do what I love and to be a mom – which I love more than anything.” But balancing a professional career with motherhood is not easy. Like many new moms, Benanti struggles with guilt. “I constantly feel this tremendous hole, like when I’m at work I feel like I should be with my kid, when I’m with Ella I feel like I should be exercising or taking care of myself or pursuing an opportunity.”
The day we spoke, Benanti was on set filming an episode of the TV show Younger before rushing to Lincoln Center for that night’s performance of My Fair Lady and then home to Ella Rose who had a cold. “I hope you don’t mind if I eat while we talk?” she asked.
In addition to performing the role of Eliza Doolittle eight times a week, Benanti is making waves across the country for her portrayal of Melania Trump on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert. Ella Rose often accompanies her on set.
“Now that Ella understands what I do for a living, she can come to work with me and we can have conversations about it. It’s a much different thing than when she was just a baby.”
Benanti also finds time to give back. She recently produced an album of songs entitled Singing You Home that gathered some of Broadway’s brightest stars (Lin-Manuel Miranda, Idina Menzel, Cynthia Erivo, Josh Groban, the list goes on…) to donate their talents to help reunite children separated from their parents at the border.
“I was despondent, watching the news and feeling helpless,” Benanti said. “I decided I could either do a bunch of little things or put my energy into one big thing.” So she made some phone calls and got the project rolling. Proceeds from the bilingual album, which debuted #1 on the Billboard children’s chart in November, go to RAICES (Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services) a non-profit that provides free and low-cost legal services to immigrant children and families in Texas.
And Benanti is thrilled to share this joyful phase of life with her own mother. “Getting her back onstage thirty-five years after she stopped performing has been really amazing.”
Laura and Linda Benanti: The Story Goes On plays two performances at 3 pm and 8 pm on Saturday, March 9, 2019, at The Barns at Wolf Trap – 1645 Trap Road, in Vienna, VA. For tickets, call 1-877-WOLFTRAP or go online.