Saturday, September 7, 2013


54 Below is a wonderful thing. This relatively new Broadway cabaret club has, in its short time of existence, attracted some of musical theatre's most exciting and biggest talents to perform small concert engagements. But don't go to these concerts expecting a full-on musical theatre show... often, 54 Below gives these stars the venue to perform music we'd otherwise never hear out of them, with perhaps a mere sprinkling of tunes out of the musical theatre cannon.

For those of us who live such a great distance away from New York City, the up-and-coming label Broadway Records has taken the liberty of immortalizing some of the best and most exciting of these concerts for the rest of the world to hear. Current recordings include concerts by Norbert Leo Butz, Patti LuPone, Christiane Noll, Aaron Tveit, and Andrea McArdle... but easily one of the most anticipated releases was of Laura Benanti's concert. It's here now. And to say it doesn't disappoint would be a severe understatement.

Benanti has established quite an astonishing career in a short span of time, appearing on the New York stage in award-winning and/or critically acclaimed performances in shows like the revival of Gypsy, Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, Nine, Into the Woods, and more, along with a few short-lived television shows. She has a clear-as-a-bell soprano that is refreshingly pleasant to the ears, a welcomed change from the growing epidemic of harsh, edgy-voiced beltresses. Yet, her voice can tackle rock, folk, or pop just as easily as it can navigate classic Broadway showtunes.

This album, titled In Constant Search of the Right Kind of Attention, runs the gamut of musical styles to create a diverse, varied, and wonderfully fun concert listening experience. Benanti has such a natural gift for comedy, which shines constantly through the album without ever sounding untrue or forced while she speaks to the audience between songs. And when it comes to the songs themselves, Benanti is totally at home singing the work of artists from Harry Chapin to Lana Del Ray, from Maury Yeston to David Yazbek, from Frank Loesser to Joni Mitchell. The results are nothing short of thrilling. Benanti's vocal performance is wonderfully restrained... She doesn't toss out a bunch of unnecessary riffing or belting, and she doesn't need to. And just when you think this beautiful, hilarious, talented woman couldn't get any better, she even whips out a few songs she's written herself (in one case, accompanying herself on the ukulele).

One of my favourite sections of the album is one in which Benanti sings a few songs written by one of her accompanists, composer Todd Almond. These songs are just excellent, and performed brilliantly by Benanti in just two of the few musical theatre offerings in the concert. Her pitch-perfect renditions of Joni Mitchell's 'He Comes for Conversation' and the rightfully obligatory 'Model Behaviour' (from Women on the Verge...) also warrant major replay value. Though, quite honestly, the entire damn album deserves to be replayed over and over again.

This 70 minute long album flies by. It's just so good. It is something fans of Laura Benanti have been waiting for, and it's turned out to be all any fan could possibly want and more. There's something in this concert for everyone... and, though it's surely arguable, I don't think many would disagree with me when I say that this is the best offering yet in the Live at 54 Below series.

This near-perfect album is sure to get Laura Benanti more than enough of the 'right kind of attention'.

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