A Word With: Mamas Going Strong: A Conversation With Linda and Laura Benanti

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Did you always know Laura would grow up to be an actress?
LINDA Oh, Laura knew. [Laughs] It wasn’t me saying: “You know what, honey? I think you might like this.” This was Laura getting up on her wooden Fisher-Price slide, going, “Presenting — !”
LAURA Shy. Always shy. My first words were, “Can I have an agent?”
LINDA I filmed her saying that.

Laura, when did you realize that your mother was a talented performer in her own right?
LAURA When I was 5 years old, I was coming up the stairs and I saw my mom standing there, singing “A Quiet Thing” a cappella, and it was such a differentiating moment for me. I realized that we are separate from each other — she has dreams and goals. You weren’t just there to bring me stuff. It stuck with me my whole life.
LINDA You used to critique my voice students. This one particular student was not great. Laura was on my lap, I think you were about 2, and he sang and she looked at him and she went, “No.”
LAURA Telling people what to do since 1981.

Photo

Linda Benanti, and Laura as a child. Credit via the Benanti Family

Linda, how could you be sure your professional assessments of Laura were objective, and not just coming from a place of motherly pride?
LAURA I’m actually interested in this answer as well.
LINDA It’s complicated. I was trying not to go, “That’s my daughter — she’s brilliant!,” because I see a lot of moms like that. But as a voice teacher, I know someone’s voice could develop really early and then plateau out. You wait and see. My husband and I both felt it was really important for her to develop who she is from the inside.
LAURA You’re going to get so much hate mail from the stage moms. The entire cast of “School of Rock” is going to come after you.

What is it like now, to see Laura go through a negative experience, like not getting a role she wanted …
LAURA Never. No. Always got it. So, no that one.

… or getting a bad review? How do you process that as her mother?
LAURA How do you process that?
LINDA I think you process that like any parent would process anything that happens to their child. Having been in the industry before, I was probably more nervous than a normal parent would have been. And more excited than a normal parent.
LAURA A bad review, you’re like, meh. But when it’s been personal, you want to protect me and correct someone’s misinterpretation.

LINDA And hit them.

Laura was in “Gypsy,” a show about a notorious stage mother who comes to resent her daughter for achieving a stardom she did not. Did you feel any of those feelings yourself?
LAURA She’s like the opposite. Even in my speech, I called her the anti-Mama Rose. [Breathlessly] When I won the Tony Award.
LINDA I never, ever felt, “Oh, that should have been me.” Not in a million years.
LAURA You were saying for years I should play her [Louise in “Gypsy”].
LINDA There are a lot of roles that I always thought that about. Amalia [in “She Loves Me”] was one of them. Louise was one of them.
LAURA [Whispers] Say “My Fair Lady.”
LINDA And “My Fair Lady” is definitely one of them. Gee! Obviously.
LAURA Good job.

When did you commit to these concerts at Feinstein’s/54 Below?
LAURA When I was pregnant, and, like, “Being a mom’s going to be easy!” And now I’m like, “Great.”
LINDA It’ll be fine.
LAURA I’m excited to do this with you. I wish you had continued on, because you’re so talented. I wish you’d been able to pursue that for yourself, and that you weren’t in a position where you had to take care of me, and transition solely to being a voice teacher. I feel like 35 years later, you have an opportunity to share your gift with people, and it is a gift.

Do you think Ella will follow in Laura’s footsteps?
LAURA My husband was playing the piano for Ella — he was playing “Für Elise,” the only piano piece he remembers — and her eyes welled up with tears. And we were like, whoa, O.K., that’s a one-off. He did it again the next day — same thing.
LINDA She’s going to sing.
LAURA She better.
LINDA Laura had a very husky voice when she was a baby. And as her mom, I thought, “Where does she get this?” We called her Moose.
LAURA I’ve talked to a lot of therapists about this.

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