“I’m old-fashioned,” Tony Award-winning singer Laura Benanti crooned Saturday night at George Mason University’s Concert Hall, a jazzy quartet swinging lightly behind her.
That was funny, because she isn’t. As the guitarist and pianist swapped easygoing solos midway through the Jerome Kern-Johnny Mercer song, the 34-year-old veteran of Broadway (“Gypsy,” “Into the Woods”) and TV (“Royal Pains,” “The Playboy Club”) casually snapped photos of the crowd on her smartphone.
“I’m going to tweet that,” she said, before picking up the vintage melody again.
A little later, Benanti was deep into a heavily atmospheric mashup of Lana Del Rey’s “Video Games” and Ellie Goulding’s “Starry Eyed,” her sure soprano voice swelling with pop power.
Adding to the contemporary edge of the 75-minute set: Benanti’s irrepressibly tart and cheery patter, a sublimely silly medley that ranged from “Ol’ Man River” to “Baby Got Back,” and delicate, gripping collaborations with pianist-musical director-composer Todd Almond.
Yet of course Benanti is old-fashioned. Closely following the sequence of her recent CD “In Constant Search of the Right Kind of Attention: Live at 54 Below,” Benanti settled into the moody “My Time of Day” from “Guys and Dolls” and winsomely changed “On the Street Where You Live” (from “My Fair Lady”) to “the street where I lived,” as a tribute to her old Manhattan neighborhood.
Benanti’s singing is bright and rangy; she doesn’t bowl you over with powerhouse sound. “Sometimes I feel like we’re all going to be belted off the face of the earth,” she lamented before sweetly climbing the scales of Joni Mitchell’s “Conversation.”
She moved easily from the bite of Harry Chapin’s “Mr. Tanner,” a ballad for an amateur singer savaged by a professional critic, to the lilting whimsy of “I’m Glad I’m Not Young Anymore” (from “Gigi,” with accordion and banjo accompaniment) and her own charming “Ukulele Song,” strumming the ukulele herself. She smoldered during “Unusual Way” from “Nine” and ripped through the riotous “Model Behavior” from “Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown,” reprising a pair of admired Broadway turns. With that, Benanti was done — a smart, funny, tuneful evening, over too fast.
Pressley is a freelance writer.