By Brian Scott Lipton and Sandi Durell . . .

Is there some kind of state-of-the-art device hidden somewhere on Laura Benanti’s body? Or maybe she’s fooled us for the past 25 years by simply passing as human, when she’s really an alien? Really, there must be some sort of explanation for Benanti’s unparalleled ability to switch almost instantly – both in musical style and patter – from utter sincerity to not-so-subtle quirky snarkiness, from standards specialist to pop purveyor, from brilliant balladeer to comic genius.

This thought kept popping through our heads during Benanti’s not-to-be-missed new show at Feinstein’s/54 Below on October 5, the beginning of her six-night engagement as part of the club’s ultra-fancy new “Diamond Series” (which features a special four-course dinner). Fittingly, this four-star act revealed both new and unexpected facets of Benanti’s gem-like brilliance.

What was immediately apparent was how happy Benanti (looking stunning in a red/black/green sequin dress that enhanced her already fantastic figure) was to be back in front of an audience, a dream she’s dreamt for the past two years and has happily woken up to. During the show, she also shared lots of stories of her own life during the pandemic, including living with her husband Patrick and their now 5-year-old daughter Ella at her parents’ house – a sojourn she quipped was 7 ½ months too long.

What also became quickly apparent was Benanti’s musical versatility. Backed by a superb jazz quartet led by music director Gil Goldstein and featuring an extraordinary guitarist named Pasquale Grasso (whom she kept saying is actually from New Jersey – but we knew better?). Benanti seamlessly segued from Rufus Wainwright’s insouciant “Cigarette and Chocolate Milk” to a satirically exaggerated take on Burt Bachrach’s “Wives and Lovers” (now regarded by many as the most sexist song ever written as it proports to give lessons on how to keep your man) to an unspeakably romantic version of “What Are You Doing the Rest of Your Life” (by Michel LeGrand and Alan and Marilyn Bergman, where her connection to the lyrics were deeply emotional.

Next up was, quite surprisingly a stripped-down but utterly enjoyable rendition of the Jonas Brothers’ chart-topping smash “Sucker.” (Proceeds from downloads of that song, which is on her latest self-titled CD, go to help kids in need of good nutrition.) That ditty was followed by the truly hilarious “The Boy From…”, by Mary Rodgers and Stephen Sondheim, which she explained (in advance) was a tale of a woman who unwittingly falls for a gay man (or as she said as it’s known in the musical theater world as “The Laura Benanti Story.”) Letting the applause settle, Benanti then reminded us, gently and happily, that the world has changed in the past 50-something years so that such unsettling scenarios happen with far less frequency.

After handing over the microphone mid-set to her guest star Brandon Michael Nasse (who earned the crowd’s applause with a powerful yet poetic take on Kurt Elling and Carla Bley’s “Endless Lawns”), Benanti returned to center stage to deliver what much of the audience probably came to hear: the best of Broadway.

Unleashing her thrilling soprano (without any overt fear of breaking of the glassware), she effortlessly slipped into three of her most famous Broadway roles: Eliza in My Fair Lady (a glorious “I Could Have Danced All Night,” complete with British accent); Maria in The Sound of Music (offering up a truly heartfelt tribute to the owners of 54 Below, who cast her in the show, and her mentor, the late Rebecca Luker, before offering a soaring rendition of the show’s title song); and Amalia in She Loves Me (courtesy of an appropriately delicious “Vanilla Ice Cream”). She even put the cherry on the sundae by serving up a heartbreaking “The Party’s Over” (from Bells Are Ringing), leading one to wonder if someone should consider reviving (again) that charming Jule Styne-Betty Comden-Adolph Green musical.

As much as it might have been great to let more showtunes end the evening (perhaps by using “Unusual Way” from Nine or “Model Behavior” from Women on the Verge as a final send-off), we can’t complain about her choice for an encore: Paul Simon’s ultra-witty “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover,” which allowed every member of the audience to walk out the front door (or slip out the back) with a big smile on their faces.

Of course, what else would one expect from Laura Benanti? She’s one of the greatest of our current Broadway stars: a consummate actress with a voice that ebbs and flows like no other!

Laura Benanti’s “Diamond Series” engagement continues through October 10 at Feinstein’s/54 Below (254 West 54th Street). Visit for information and reservations.