Tony winner Benanti lends her skills to WOHS

Photo Courtesy of WOSD West Orange High School chorus director John Hellyer with his friend, Tony Award winner Laura Benanti.
Photo Courtesy of WOSD
West Orange High School chorus director John Hellyer with his friend, Tony Award winner Laura Benanti.

WEST ORANGE, NJ — “I Like Musicals,” an original song penned by Tony winner and multiple Tony nominee Laura Benanti, will be a featured musical piece at the West Orange High School holiday concert on Thursday, Dec. 8, and the trip from Broadway to West Orange is one of friendship and camaraderie that spans decades.

Benanti and chorus director John Hellyer have been close friends since middle school when

Hellyer and his sister, Amy, both studied voice with Benanti’s mother, Linda. He now teaches voice at her studio.

“I was obsessed with them … they were the cool kids and I wanted to be like them!” Benanti said in a press release.

Benanti won a Tony in 2008 for her portrayal of Louise in the Broadway revival of “Gypsy,” and Drama Desk and Outer Critics Circle Awards in 2011 for “Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown.” She was most recently nominated for a 2016 Tony for “She Loves Me.”

In addition to theater, Benanti has enjoyed a very successful career in television, including stints in “Nashville,” “Law and Order SVU,” “Supergirl” and “The Sound of Music Live.”

“Being nominated for or winning an award is incredibly validating,” Benanti said in the release. “Much of being an actor is sacrifice, hard work, determination and, a lot of times, disappointment. Although awards cannot be the reason why we become artists, it feels really nice to be acknowledged in that way.”

“Every time I see Laura in a Broadway show or concert, she greets me warmly backstage with family and friends, takes pictures, asks for insightful critiques and is very generous,” Hellyer said in the release. “Even after winning a Tony Award and numerous TV and film roles, she’s still the sweet and generous person I’ve known for nearly three decades.”

Benanti is enthusiastic about her song “I Love Musicals.”

“I wrote that song as a reminder to any young person who feels different or ‘not cool’ that they are not alone,” she said. “The song is written from my perspective as a teenager — hence the ’90s references. My hope is that the audience will relate to the song whether they love musicals or not. Each of us has something that makes us feel ‘different’ or ‘other.’ This song is an anthem that hopefully speaks to that.”

“‘I Like Musicals’ is all about feeling like you don’t fit in, since liking show tunes and Broadway musicals hasn’t traditionally been ‘cool’ in high schools,” Hellyer said. “I impressed upon the students how wonderful it is to find a ‘home’ within the performing arts with other students like them. Most of the kids know Laura because they follow Broadway, on Twitter or on television. She even sent a ‘break a leg’ video to our cast of ‘The Wedding Singer’ in 2015 because she premiered that show on Broadway years ago. They were inspired to know that someone who grew up to be a gorgeous, talented, funny and successful performer once felt totally insecure and un-cool.”

“I am so honored that this song will be sung by these wonderful young artists, so gratified that my friend John has facilitated that, and my friend James Horan arranged it! I have known them both since I was in middle school and the fact that we are friends to this day warms my heart,” Benanti said.

Benanti hopes to attend the performance but said, “I am super pregnant right now and will have to see how I’m feeling.”

The West Orange High School chorus’ holiday concert will be held in the high school auditorium on the Pleasant Valley Way entrance of the campus beginning at 7. pm. The community is invited to attend.