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Q&A: Laura Benanti

The Broadway star on her latest role, in She Loves Me

If the plot of She Loves Me, the recently revived Broadway musical, feels familiar, that’s probably because it is. The story of two rival shop clerks who are, unbeknownst to them, also the starry-eyed pen pals exchanging love notes through a lonely-hearts club, has been the basis of a number of films—from Jimmy Stewart’s A Shop Around the Corner to Judy Garland’s In The Good Old Summertime and even You’ve Got Mail—and for good reason. The story, despite first premiering in 1962, is charming, funny and delightful to observe. That’s all thanks in no small part to Laura Benanti, the Tony-winning actress who stars as Amalia Balash. Here, Benanti explains why She Loves Me was worth waiting for, and what about the production she likes the best. 

Congratulations! The show just opened, but it’s been a long time in the making, hasn’t it?

They initially ran a one-night only concert version of the show that I did not do. Then, there was talk afterwards of mounting a production for the 50th anniversary at the Roundabout Theater Company, because it’s the first musical that they ever did. They offered me the job over a year and a half ago—really, almost two years ago—and I said yes immediately.

What was it about the role that made it an immediate yes?

It’s difficult to find a role in the musical theater world where you get to be a soprano and also be funny. So, a lot of times the roles are the funny belter and the heart-warming soprano at the center of the story. That’s wonderful, but for me this role checked the boxes of everything that I like to do. I like to sing, but I like to be funny. I like to have moments of reality and heartbreak.

There’s definitely heartbreak—this story inspired You’ve Got Mail, among other things. Still, it was first produced in the 1960s, so what makes it relatable now?

I think actually now more than ever it’s really appurtenant because so many people are finding love online. When the show first made its debut in 1962, people actually had less of a familiarity with the feelings that these characters are feeling, because not many people wrote letters through a lonely-hearts club. But so many people I know are dating online. So, it feels really fresh in that way and I think it’s now more than ever really relevant to our society. And also it’s just a beautifully written show. It’s hilarious. It’s heartwarming. The lyrics are brilliant. It’s kind of the perfect show.

What’s been your favorite part of the process of mounting She Loves Me?  

Getting in front of the audience for the first time is always thrilling. That to me feels really exciting. Rehearsals…, well, we have to do them, but there’s something about getting that other element, which is the audience, that brings it all together for me.

The show is set to run though summer. Is there anything else on the horizon for you?

Well, I am in the process of writing a book. I am also talking about a television idea for myself, nothing that I can really be like telling you about right now, unfortunately, but a lot of fun stuff in the works.

What will the book be about?

The working title is I Stole Your Boyfriend and Other Monstrous Acts on My Way To Becoming A Human Woman. It’s not a self-help book, but it’s a funny take on a self-help book. I feel like if I can prevent any woman from going through some of the things that I went through because of my own stupidity than that would make me feel happy.

Main image by Joan Marcus

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