Denée Benton Talks Diversity in Casting and Her Broadway Debut

Denée Benton Talks Diversity in Casting and Her Broadway Debut

After her smashing Broadway debut, this shooting star is on the rise.

After her smashing Broadway debut, this shooting star is on the rise.

Photography: Bruno Staub

Styling: Julian Jesus

Text: Whitney Mallett

Recently, Josh Groban was chatting with his Broadway costar, Denée Benton, and he recounted an exchange he'd had with an admirer. "The other day there was this fan who was like, 'Do you remember me? I saw you in a park 10 years ago and you were walking your dog,'" as Benton remembers the story. "I was like, 'Oh my God Josh is this what you deal with all the time?'"

Since her Broadway debut in November, she's gotten her own taste of superfandom by proxy. Fans as far as Japan, for instance, have been making dolls in the image of her and Groban's 19th-century Russian characters from the War and Peace-based pop opera Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812.

All in all, it's been a "dream year" for the 24-year-old Florida native who studied theater at Carnegie Mellon. In addition to landing one of The Great Comet's titular roles, she starred in the second season of the Life Time series UnREAL, a drama chronicling the making of a fictional Bachelor-style reality show. She played Ruby, a BlackLivesMatter activist that the fictional TV producers lure onto the show for ratings. Benton notes that the characters "cast based on stereotypes, like 'We gotta get the angry black girl, We gotta get the Muslim girl,' but in the end, all of those characters end up having a really beautiful story arc." She adds, "I think it humanizes people in a time where we're very polarized."

The Great Comet's cast of Benton as an 1812 Russian aristocrat comes on the heels of Hamilton's highly publicized nonwhite cast. (Another connection: the Off-Broadway version of The Great Comet starred Asian-American actress Phillipa Soo, who went on to star as Alexander Hamilton's wife in the smash hit.) Benton underscores how "exclusion is rooted in such an ugly history of purposeful discrimination." She goes on to note about the need for diversity in casting, "For us, it's not necessarily a political statement. It's just our livelihood. We're actors who are happy to be working and having the opportunity to tell stories."

Jacket Ralph Lauren Bandeau Balmain Pants Jil Sander
Credits: Makeup Georgi Sandev (Streeters) Hair Holly Mills (Tim Howard Management) Photo Assistant Evan Browning Location Root Studios

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