'Nobody Cares' about Laura Benanti, but they let her entertain them

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'Nobody Cares' about Laura Benanti, but they let her entertain them
Laura Benanti in her play “Nobody Cares” at the Minetta Lane Theater in New York, on May 8, 2024. While poking fun at her own agreeable malleability, Benanti flexes her talents in a show that will be available on Audible, without the physical dimension. (Sara Krulwich/The New York Times)

by Elisabeth Vincentelli

NEW YORK, NY.- Laura Benanti’s show “Nobody Cares,” at the Minetta Lane Theater, is being recorded and will soon be available from the comfort of your home. Future audiences are likely to enjoy Benanti’s autobiographical romp through her family life, her romantic and professional travails, her insecurities (see the title) and her often overwhelming need to please. They will appreciate the handful of original songs, which she wrote with music director Todd Almond — Benanti is a fabulous singer, with a Tony Award on her mantel for her sultry turn as Louise in “Gypsy.”

But because the show will be on Audible, those audiences will be made up of listeners, and they will miss out on the physical comedy of a woman who can communicate more with one raised eyebrow than most actors can with a lengthy monologue. Benanti dramatically throws herself on the floor during the number “Give It to Me” before effortlessly slithering back up. This might be an exorcism of the time she broke her neck while doing a pratfall as Cinderella in the 2002 revival of “Into the Woods.”

Did that accident make her change her reflexive compliance? Nope: “There wasn’t a strong enough neck brace in the world that could have kept me from nodding ‘yes’ to something I strongly disagreed with,” she says in the show.

That Benanti is a terrific all-around comedienne won’t surprise those who have seen, say, the musical “Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown,” her impersonation of Melania Trump on “The Late Show With Stephen Colbert,” or videos like the one in which she reimagined the obsessive Fosca from Stephen Sondheim’s “Passion” as a Times Square mascot. Now she’s exploring new-ish terrain in an evening-length show, directed by Annie Tippe, that stands out from her past solo projects by relying more on narration and embracing a confessional mode. The general approach is a little reminiscent of Sherie Rene Scott’s “Everyday Rapture,” from 2009 (though that piece had more songs, and they were covers).

After a beginning that feels stiffly self-conscious, Benanti loosens into her comedic rhythm and packs a lot into 90 minutes: a childhood as a theater nerd, three marriages, two daughters, perimenopause, shooting a nude scene in a recent prestige TV series. The production’s biggest missed opportunity might lie in how little Benanti interacts with Almond, who leads the five-piece band and occasionally pipes up with impeccably timed rejoinders, or with her backup singers, Barrie Lobo McLain and Chelsea Lee Williams.

She is especially skillful at navigating self-deprecation, a tricky mode that can come across as disingenuous humble-bragging when famous people do it. “I am a fully accredited Broadway star,” she says. Pause. “We use the term ‘star’ loosely in the theater. Sort of how people in Hollywood use the term ‘good friend.’ ”

Things are bumpiest when Benanti talks about motherhood. Gush is adjacent to mush, and the actress’ acerbic one-liners can’t quite cut the sentimentality that creeps into the show’s last third. Still, “Nobody Cares” points to a new stage — in both senses of the word — for Benanti as a performer and as a woman: Her people-pleasing drive still entails entertaining audiences, but she’s standing up for herself now.

‘Laura Benanti: Nobody Cares’Through June 2 at the Minetta Lane Theater, Manhattan; audible.com. Running time: 1 hour 20 minutes.

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

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