Laura Benanti and Zachary Levi, the Hilarious Stars of She Loves Me, Get Serious...
…about classic Broadway musicals, eight-show weeks, and non-vanilla ice cream.
Laura Benanti and Zachary Levi are an ideal match as Amalia and Georg in Broadway's romantic musical comedy She Loves Me. But the talented twosome, who are falling in love nightly onstage at Roundabout's Studio 54, got there via two very different career paths. While Levi was making his name in Los Angeles as the charmingly goofy title character on NBC's Chuck and debuting on Broadway in 2013's First Date, Benanti was solidifying her position as one of the theater industry's brightest stars with a Tony Award and nine productions (mostly revivals) under her belt.
In She Loves Me, their serendipitous chemistry is the cherry on top of a delicious Broadway sundae that also boasts a dollop of Jane Krakowski, a sprinkling of Gavin Creel, and of course, a hearty scoop of Sheldon Harnick and Jerry Bock's iconic coloratura aria "Vanilla Ice Cream."
Shortly before a recent evening performance, TheaterMania met up with Benanti and Levi amid the elegant costumes and feminist throw pillows (I'm a grown woman I can do whatever I want) of Benanti's dressing room for a far-ranging conversation that hit on topics from cookies-and-cream to Hamilton. But first, Benanti kicked off our chat on the topic of fashion, playfully pointing out the label on Levi's vintage-ish windbreaker.
Zachary Levi: Oh hell yeah. Members Only. I wish it were straight up from the eighties, but it's not.
Laura Benanti: Don't tell people that!
Zachary: I mean, it's straight up from the eighties. I had it when I was a kid. An extra large.
I'm looking forward to the performance when you all come out in Members Only jackets.
Laura: Can you imagine?
Zachary: We could do the eighties version of She Loves Me. That would actually be kind of amazing.
Do you find that the positive vibes of this show spill over into other areas of your life?
Laura: You do take it home with you. It's hard not to. The spillover of this is joyful. It's like confetti. It really feels good, especially at this time in our world history — it's a dark time. To feel like we're filling the space with a little bit of light, just for a little while, feels important. I really do believe that shows like this are karmic in that way, in that people leave the theater happier and that they will in turn be kinder to other people and so on, like a ripple effect.
Zachary: It is a very positive, love-filled show and it gives people hope; it even gives me hope.
Zachary: I think the story is full of hope — two people looking for love — and I'd like to find that in a really true way one day.
Laura: Well, you're probably going to, because every single person I know is texting me and asking if you're single. I find it so annoying. [laughing]
Zachary: I'm sorry.
Laura: People will be like, "Great show. Is Zachary single?" I'm like, "Yes. What do you want me to do?" I'm like your lonely-hearts club.
Zachary, after First Date, what made you want to come back to Broadway?
Zachary: Because once is not enough. Look, I grew up my whole life doing theater. It's my first love. I tell everyone that's just getting into acting, whenever anyone ever says, "What's some advice? What should I do?" I go, "Theater. And then do more theater. And then do more theater." Because if all you're intending on doing is being famous or being rich, a) there are a lot of other ways to do that and b) that's really not where it should come from anyway.
How does doing this show feel different from First Date?
Zachary: I was totally new going into First Date, so I didn't know what eight shows a week was like. Nobody can ever explain to you what eight shows a week is like. They go, "Listen, eight shows a week is no joke," and I believed them too. And as soon as I started doing First Date and I started talking to other people who wanted to do Broadway, I go, listen, "Eight shows a week is no joke."
So coming into this it didn't take me as much — just knowing what your limits are, knowing how to listen to your body and how to listen to your voice.
Laura, how do you feel like your career up to this point has prepared you for this role?
Laura: Look, it's rare as a soprano to get to be funny. And this role allows me to sing in a coloratura soprano and also be very, very funny. And I get to have moments of genuine heartbreak and romance. So I think I've been lucky enough to do a piece of those things in every show that I've been in. I've gotten to be funny, or I've gotten to be heartbreaking, or I've gotten to be a soprano. But I haven't ever been able to do them all at once. So I feel like every job I've ever had, where I've gotten to do that piece, has led me to this show. It's like I've been putting together pieces of a puzzle and now it's there and it says She Loves Me.
Why do you think it's important to keep these classic musicals still in our consciousness?
Laura: Because musical theater is indigenous to the United States of America. Truly. As is apple pie, as is baseball, as is jazz. And I feel a tremendous sense of patriotism toward this genre. I feel like we cannot move forward unless we understand where we've been. There would not be a Hamilton if there weren't a She Loves Me and a Fiddler on the Roof and a Gypsy and a West Side Story. And look at the brilliance that is Hamilton, but that came from somewhere. And it came from here.
Finally, is vanilla ice cream actually your favorite flavor?
Laura: Mine is mint chocolate chip, but I can't eat ice cream. I have all sorts of allergies, unfortunately.
Zachary: Mine's just straight-up cookies-and-cream.
Laura: So good. Have you ever had the mint cookies-and-cream?
Zachary: I'm not a minty guy.
Zachary: I used to be a mint-chip kid. And then as soon as I found cookies-and-cream, I was like no, no, no.
Laura: But the combo is so delicious. My mouth is watering. It's so delicious.