Don’t mess with Laura Benanti on Twitter. Lively, opinionated, and possessing a wicked wit, the actress is unafraid to mix it up with fans and trolls alike. But it took her pouty-mouthed, squinty-eyed send-up of Melania Trump’s partially plagiarized Republican National Convention speech on “The Late Show With Stephen Colbert” for Benanti to truly go viral. The video has been seen more than 8 million times on YouTube.
One of Broadway’s most popular performers, with a burgeoning television career, Benanti scored a Tony Award in 2008 for playing striptease star Gypsy Rose Lee in the Patti LuPone-headlined revival of “Gypsy.” She’s been Tony-nominated five other times, including this year for her irresistible turn as the sweet, yet strong-willed Amalia in “She Loves Me.”
On Sunday, Benanti, 37, will perform with the Boston Pops Esplanade Orchestra at the Hyannis Village Green on Cape Cod for the annual “Pops By the Sea” concert. She will sing selections from her celebrated Broadway career, including the divine “Vanilla Ice Cream” from “She Loves Me,” “Hit Me With a Hot Note” from “Swing!,” and “Unusual Way” from “Nine.” We rang up Benanti to talk about Melania Trump, her sense of humor, and her riotous Twitter feed (where she just revealed that she’s pregnant with her first child).
Q. How did you and Pops conductor Keith Lockhart decide on the song selections for this weekend?
A. We wanted to make sure the songs were familiar to most people, songs that feel fun and light and summery, with the exception of “Unusual Way,” which is just such a beautiful song that I’m sure the audience will be fine with going deeper for a moment. With concerts, I really love being able to create a clear connection to the audience as myself, not as a character, without any sort of barrier between us.
Q. How have your family and friends reacted since your Melania Trump impression blew up the Internet?
A. Everybody really loved it, which is gratifying, and I’m so grateful for the opportunity that the people at “Colbert” gave me to play her. Any time I can show my sense of humor is a really happy time for me. I don’t know if it’s my physical appearance or having played so many serious roles up front as a young actor, but some people really have this perception of me as a serious person. I’m just not. I mean, I can be when I need to be.
Q. How did the opportunity to play Melania happen?
A. I was on “Colbert” in March promoting “She Loves Me,” and he pointed out our resemblance. I did the pouty face. But I didn’t really think much of it other than, oh that’s funny. Then the day after she gave her speech I got e-mails and calls from Colbert saying, “Will you come on and do this?” It happened really quickly. I was five hours away celebrating my grandmother’s 92d birthday in Delaware, and came back to New York to do it.
Q. How did you prepare for playing her?
A. Up until the speech I hadn’t heard her really talk. There was really not much to pay attention to other than her smoldering gaze. So I watched her speech over and over again for the entire train ride back to New York. . . . I was so focused on nailing the impression that I completely forgot that I was sitting next to other human beings. I also had my headphones on so I was sort of loudly practicing my impersonation next to a very confused man. I definitely seemed like a murderer who was going to go find [Melania] as soon as I got off the train.
Q. Will we see your Melania impersonation on “The Late Show” again soon?
A. I think we really have to wait for her to do something else. I don’t want to attack her. I don’t want to feel like I’m bullying her.
Q. Right. After all, there’s a wealth of material to work with when it comes to Trump himself.
‘Any time I can show my sense of humor is a really happy time for me.’
A. Oh please, if I were the Trump impersonator I would be thrilled right now. But yeah, he’s the one running for office. You have to be really careful when it comes to spouses. I’m not interested in going after a person who is just sort of minding her own business. If she were to do something else that’s newsworthy, which hopefully she does for many reasons, then I’m happy to put on her pout again.
Q. What did you love about playing Amalia in “She Loves Me”?
A. A lot of times as a soprano, the roles can be, I’m going to be honest, boring. This role is so full. She is funny, she is smart, she is charismatic. There is heartbreak and feeling. She is just such a beautiful multi-dimensional female character
Q. In what ways did you connect to her personally?
A. Benanti: Certainly her sense of humor. I tend to see the world through the lens of a sense of humor. And also her self-protectiveness — I think she is harder on the outside than she is on the inside. And I related to a very smart, driven woman who was also a romantic.
Q. Fans know about your wit from seeing your cabaret shows and following you on Twitter. Where does that sense of humor come from?
A. My mother is a very, very funny woman. So I definitely grew up with seeing the way that she viewed the world. It was not the way that other moms viewed the world, or at least they didn’t talk about it. I grew up with a mom who sees funny in everything, even in tragedy.
Q. You have a book of comedic essays in the works called “I Stole Your Boyfriend and Other Monstrous Acts On My Way To Becoming a Human Woman.” Are you really guilty of stealing someone’s boyfriend?
A. I did steal somebody’s boyfriend when I was 21, and it’s one of the moments that I’m least proud of in my entire life. It’s something that I talk about comedically in the book, but also to be like, ‘Hey, never do that. That’s garbage.’ There is definitely behavior that I exhibited as a young woman that I am not proud of. So I look at it through the lens of humor in these essays to make you laugh, but also as sort of a cautionary tale. Then of course I talk about things that I am proud of, as well as disappointments and heartbreak and happy wonderful things. Life!
POPS BY THE SEA