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Laura Ilene Benanti (born Laura Ilene Vidnovic; July 15, 1979) is an American actress and singer.Over the course of her Broadway career, she has received five Tony Award nominations.In 1998, Paper Mill's then-artistic director Robert Johanson recommended Benanti for the role of Liesl in a Broadway revival of The Sound of Music.She auditioned for the show's producers and was considered too mature-looking to play Liesl, but, after several call-backs, was signed at the age of 18 to play one of the nuns and to understudy Rebecca Luker as Maria.She says, "I had a serious injury and there was absolutely no way I could have done the show. I tried to go back and do it but I physically couldn't." Benanti was eventually replaced in the show by Erin Dilly.Eight months after her initial injury, Benanti was rediagnosed and received surgery that could have damaged her voice but was successful, though as of 2005 she still experienced neck pain and myelopathy.Benanti's performance as Louise was praised, with The New York Times's Ben Brantley declaring it "the performance of her career".She won several awards, including a Tony Award for Best Featured Actress in a Musical, a Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Featured Actress in a Musical, and an Outer Critics Circle Award for Outstanding Featured Actress in a Musical.
In 2002, Benanti played Cinderella (a role she had played as a teenager) in the Broadway revival of Into the Woods, and received both a Tony nomination for Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Musical and a Drama Desk nomination for Outstanding Featured Actress in a Musical.
Benanti appeared in the new musical Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown on Broadway from October 8, 2010, until January 2, 2011.