Broadway’s Laura Benanti Urges Theater Students to Post #SunshineSongs

During this time of social distancing, the Tony winner creates a virtual audience for young performers.

Laura Benanti sunshinesongs
Sixteen-year-old Laura Benanti, left, as Dolly Levi in Kinnelon High School’s production of 'Hello, Dolly!' Courtesy of Instagram. Benanti, right, courtesy of Laura Duncan.

Tony-winning performer and Kinnelon native Laura Benanti knows how to grab people’s attention on social media. Most notably, her impersonation of First Lady Melania Trump, which premiered on The Late Show With Stephen Colbert in 2016, has racked up more than 10 million views on YouTube. Humor aside, Benanti often posts about causes she supports on her own social media profiles.

Last week, the Broadway star showed support for high school theater students.

In a video she posted on Twitter and Instagram, Benanti said, “This may seem silly, but I know that a lot of high schools were going to have their musicals, and those musicals got cancelled, and that is a bummer.” In light of the coronavirus, all public schools across the state and many around the nation are closed. Extracurriculars, such as sports, clubs and musicals, also halted.

She briefly reminisced about her own experience performing in musicals during high school—”a lifesaver”—before encouraging students to share clips on social media using the hashtag #SunshineSongs.

“So if you would like to sing a song that you are not going to get to sing now…tag me. I want to see you. I want to hear it.”

During this time of social distancing, Benanti used her platform—she has 149,000 Twitter followers and 137,000 Instagram followers—to create a virtual audience for young performers.

Students of all ages showed off their musical chops by sharing clips. Benanti has liked and commented on many of the posts. One of our favorite videos is from Trenton High School’s cast of Mamma Mia, who created a clever rendition of the title song.

A fews days after her initial post, Benanti shared a photo of herself in costume as Dolly Levi for her junior-year Hello, Dolly! production. For this role, she won Paper Mill Playhouse‘s first-ever Rising Star Award in 1996.

“I was always weird, but I was really driven. I was always the kid who was listening to musicals,” said Benanti about her high-school self in our 2018 interview. At Kinnelon High School, she also appeared as Golde in Fiddler on the Roof and Fiona in Brigadoon.

In a follow-up video, Benanti suggested that the “sunshine kids” sing over the phone to older family members or elderly people at local assisted living facilities as an additional way to lift spirits. She concluded with, “And thanks for still sending all the videos. They are unbelievable and bringing so many people so much joy.”

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