Denée Benton, 24
Don't be surprised when you hear Denee Benton's name being called to accept a Best Actress Tony Award in the future. The charismatic, breakout actress, who stars opposite Josh Groban in "Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812," feels as if the leading role as Natasha was perfectly made for her.
"I really connect with her soul," Benton told NBCBLK. "She's a wide-eyed, incredibly radiant vivacious person who expects the most out of the world. We can walk into the sunshine and both burst into tears because it's a beautiful day out."
She added, "Also being a Black woman, Natasha represents beauty, light, innocence and a lot of archetypes that I feel that Black women in the media aren't credited for reflecting. I feel very proud and honored, but those are the characters I always connected with. It's a testimony that you don't have to pretend to be something that you're not."
Although this is Benton's Broadway debut, the Carnegie Mellon University graduate has starred in regional productions of "The Book of Mormon," "Annie," "Fiddler on the Roof" and "Sunset Boulevard." Additionally, she has showcased her talents as Ruby Carter in the second season of Lifetime's hit show, "UNREAL."
Benton's influences include her parents, watching Whitney Houston and Brandy in "Cinderella" and Broadway vet Audra McDonald. McDonald in particular gave Benton hope.
"I grew up singing in church but I never had a huge gospel voice, which I felt insecure about," said Benton. "[Audra McDonald's] vocal tones just matched mine more than any other Black woman I've heard. She made me feel that there could be faith for me and that I didn't have to sound like Mahalia Jackson to fit in."
LATE NIGHTS OR EARLY MORNINGS? I wish my answer was early mornings but I'm learning to accept the truth that I'm late nights.
FAVORITE SONG TO PLAY AT FULL VOLUME India Arie's "Testimony: Vol 1 Life & Relationships"
MY SELF-CARE RITUAL INVOLVES Laying in the grass, in the sun, [while] meditating on a good book.
ONE THINK I WISH I KNEW ABOUT THIS INDUSTRY WHEN I FIRST STARTED The more success you have the more it costs to maintain and grow that success. Financially, spiritually, physically, and emotionally. It's so worth it, but finding the balance is a learning curve.