Laura Benanti playing the Ukulele on "Nashville"

Laura Benanti playing the Ukulele on “Nashville”

“Please don’t ask me where you know me from,” Laura Benanti’s bio reads on her hilarious, unfiltered Twitter account (@LauraBenanti).

If Benanti does look familiar, it could be through any number of her roles. The 35-year-old Tony-winning actress and ukulele enthusiast has an extensive resume, from her first gig at 19 as Maria von Trapp in a Broadway revival of The Sound of Music to playing regular characters on current seasons of Nashville and The Good Wife.

Benanti cut her teeth on the Great White Way, playing some of the best-loved roles in musical theater—most notably Gypsy Rose Lee in Gypsy (for which she won a Tony for Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Musical). She’s also appeared in Broadway productions of Swing!, Into the Woods, and Nine, while her TV credits include The Playboy Club, Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, The Big C, and Nurse Jackie. Her career came full circle in 2013 when she appeared as Baroness Elsa Schraeder in NBC-TV’s The Sound of Music Live! opposite Carrie Underwood.

Like the country-music star she plays on Nashville, Benanti is a songwriter. Her debut solo album, In Constant Search of the Right Kind of Attention, is a mix of Broadway classics and originals. On “The Ukulele Song,” Benanti weaves a sweet tune on her Mitchell while chronicling hilarious moments like getting pooped on by a bird and realizing her dress is tucked into her tights.

In between prepping for her new role in the upcoming TV series Supergirl and a lead part in the New York Spring Spectacular musical revue, Benanti chatted with Ukulele about her passion for the tiny four-string.

How long have you been playing ukulele?

“Play” is a generous term for my ukulele skills. I’ve been fiddling around with the uke for about five years.

Why did you pick it up for the first time?

I love the movie Some Like It Hot, and as an homage to a moment in the film where Marilyn Monroe played the ukulele, I began singing and playing the song she sang and played [“Runnin’ Wild”] in my one-woman show.

What instruments had you played before?

Piano and the guitar (a little bit).

How is playing uke different?

It is so small and portable. I love writing on it. For me, the ukulele is a joyful tone.

Do you remember that first uke you played? What do you play now?

I play, and have always played, a Mitchell.

How did your fondness for ukulele evolve?

I picked it up as a lark, and then really got into it. Now I write on it a lot. I even have a song on my album called “The Ukulele Song.”

How does the crowd respond to the uke?

They love it. It’s one of the biggest hits of my show.

Did you model your playing after a certain style or period of time?

My style is, mostly, get the chords right.

What other uke players do you admire?

I love Elvis, so I love listening to him play the ukulele. Jake Shimabukuro is amazing!

Have you ever played ukulele in a stage production?

Not yet, but I want to!

Will we ever see you play a ukulele on Nashville?

I’m not sure, I hope so!

I just wrote a song on the ukulele that will be the musical intro to some promotional comedy videos I am doing for the New York Spring Spectacular at Radio City Music Hall, starring the Rockettes, Derek Hough, and myself, which runs through May 3.


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This article originally appeared in the
Summer 2015 issue of Ukulele magazine.

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