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Laura Benanti talks about her Melania impression, growing up ‘the odd person out’ and more

By Andrew Meacham, Times Performing Arts Critic
Published: February 9, 2018 Updated: February 9, 2018 at 05:29 PM
Laura Benanti attends the 2016 Tony Awards "Meet the Nominees" press junket in New York. [Photo by Charles Sykes | Invision | AP]

Tony winner Laura Benanti (for best actress in a musical), who brings her cabaret act to the Straz Center this week, was a self-described ugly duckling. Growing up in New Jersey, she never tired of Sondheim soundtracks and struggled with a secret shyness.

"I put up a good facade in order to try and fit in," Benanti told the Times in an email. "But there were times I simply couldn’t and it was so clear that I was the odd person out!"

She’s coming off a two-month run of Steve Martin’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? parody, Meteor Shower with Amy Schumer, Keegan-Michael Key and Jeremy Shamos. "I relish any chance to play an out-of-the-box character," she says. "I loved that show so much and was delighted to work with such a brilliant cast."

Benanti dropped a dead-on impersonation following the 2016 Republican convention of Melania Trump, and says she has a soft spot for the first lady. "I try and identify with all people, especially someone I am ‘playing,’?" she says. "I have empathy for her for sure."

The cabaret show starts at 7 p.m. Sunday at the Straz Center’s Ferguson Hall. $35.50 and up. (813) 229-7827. strazcenter.org.