The Staller Center for the Arts transformed into a Broadway stage on Saturday as two Tony award winners performed in the annual Gala. The evening was appropriately titled A Broadway Evening with Brian Stokes Mitchell and Laura Benanti.
Both artists brought a very different style to the stage. Benanti, who performed first, came out in a short but charming silver dress and a pair of high heels (which she removed immediately after the first song in favor of flats) that dazzled due to the heels’ length and the woman who wore them.
Her energy was infectious. She had the audience laughing between, and during, every song. The intimate setting of the Staller Center allowed Benanti “a chance for people to get to know who you are.” She used her time on stage to tell personal stories. From sharing her favorite movie as a child (“Some Like it Hot”) to her ukulele skills, the audience could leave knowing they know exactly who Laura Benanti is.
Her song selection ranged from “Unusual Way” which she picked up from her time on Broadway with Antonio Banderes to one of her personal favorite songs, “Mr. Tanner.”
However, what was undeniably the biggest crowd-pleaser was her medley that had the audience howling with laughter. Benanti had just talked about how much she loved this next mash up and how much work that goes into it when, all of the sudden, she started belting out Beyoncé’s “Single Ladies.” This medley also included “Respect,” “Proud Mary” and Bon Jovi’s “Livin’ on a Prayer.”
Mitchell had less high-octane energy and choose to use his voice as his main draw. The baritone voice was an absolute attention stealer that was impossible to resist.
He varied his songs from the Brazilian “The Waters of March” to old favorites like “Bein’ Green.” He prefaced “Green” with a story about how tough it is being young, and that he knows the feeling just like anyone else. After all, he shopped at the “husky” section in Sears. He joked that everyone knew that meant the fat section.
One of the most powerful moments of his show was when he sang “unplugged.” He just stood on stage and sang. It was so quiet that not even a pin would have the audacity to drop.
As he ended, he got a standing ovation, but he brought Benanti back on stage for it.
As different as their performances were, they were both there for the same reason—to help Staller raise money. Mitchell gave everyone the message that, “We thank you for the work that [the donators] are doing.”
Benanti talked about how valuable the craft is to people, and that, “What we really need is some art.” She thanked everyone for giving her the chance to perform and demonstrate her talent as it is her passion.
However, students were not expected to pay top prices to raise money like community members. Student rush tickets, which are sold one hour before the show for $7, were one option for students, and it was taken advantage of. Vinny Tardella, a senior anthropology major, said that he bought his tickets at 7 p.m. right before the show, and that, “We got our money’s worth.”
Yany Wu Feng, a senior anthropology major as well, she said she loved Broadway music and has heard Mitchell’s songs, so she “knew I had to come.”
While he was her main draw to the show, it was clear she could not choose a favorite. She asked that “we not compare” the two. A testament to their differences, but also to the shared talent.