Friday, January 17, 2020

A Q/A with Broadway Star LAURA OSNES

Laura Osnes
by Gil Benbrook

Laura Osnes first became known to both TV audiences and Broadway fans when she won the role of Sandy in the 2007 Broadway revival of Grease on the TV competition show "Grease: You're the One that I Want!"

Since then, she's appeared in five additional Broadway shows, received two Tony Award nominations for Best Actress in a Musical, appeared in numerous concerts, performed at the 2011 Kennedy Center Honors in a tribute to Barbara Cook, and last year appeared as Shirley MacLaine in the award winning TV mini series "Fosse / Verdon" as well as starred in two Hallmark Channel films.

Next week, on Friday, January 24th, Osnes comes to the Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts for a concert with Sirius XM "On Broadway" host Seth Rudetsky where she'll perform songs from shows she loves and, between songs, sit down in informal interview segments to answers questions from Rudetsky about her past and the musical roles she's performed.

But before she comes to town, I got Osnes to sit down to answer some questions of my own.

Before you won the role of Sandy on "Grease: You're the One that I Want!" you had plenty of stage experience growing up and appearing on stages in Minnesota and in Minneapolis. What theatre experience solidified your love for theatre and made you decide to make it a career? 

Osnes: "For as long as I can remember I've wanted to be a 'Broadway Actress.' I saw the touring productions of Les Mis and Miss Saigon come through Minneapolis when I was young, and I used to put on The Secret Garden cast album and act out the entire show in my living room. I even sang 'Castle On A Cloud' for my kindergarten talent show.  I did my first real production in 2nd grade, playing a munchkin in The Wizard of Oz at a local theater and fell in love.  I knew I wanted to play Dorothy some day and started pursuing every opportunity to perform on stage."

What was the experience like in being on "Grease: You're the One that I Want!"?  And what was it like when you were told you won and would be making your Broadway debut as Sandy in the revival of Grease

"The Grease reality show experience was crazy.  I did it because my dream has always been to be on Broadway, which was the prize for the winner of the tv competition!  I was actually playing Sandy in a production of Grease in MN at the time, so thought maaaaybe I had a shot!  I'm glad I did it, obviously, but it was stressful.  And thank goodness I was 21 and didn't know better to have any expectations.  All the contestants lived in a big mansion in Bel Air together and were transported to and from our daily rehearsals in passenger vans.  I got my hair and makeup done every week, and received my first spray-tan.  The songs we performed were always chosen for us, and we never were privy to numbers of votes from the previous week or who was being sent home until the moment it was announced on live tv.  All the contestants got along surprisingly well considering the situation, but it was competitive and tensions often ran high. Yet, I somehow knew I was supposed to be there and had this unique sense of peace the entire time. I remember the moment I won -- "Looks like it's going to be a honeymoon in Hackensack; Laura's you're SANDY!" I was engaged at the time, and had postponed my wedding to finish competing on the show!  I was so excited but so overwhelmed. It didn't quite sink in until Max (Crumm, who grew up in Phoenix and who won the role of Danny on the show) and I were flown to NYC the next morning to do a bunch of press.  My dream literally came true over night."

After Grease, you took over for Kelli O'Hara in the revival of South Pacific. You also played Hope in the revival of Anything Goes. But, you've also originated roles in Bandstand, Cinderella and Bonnie and Clyde. How differently do you approach a role you originate versus a role in a revival?   

"For a revival there's a certain expectation your audience walks in with. My role as an actor is to be truthful to what's on the page in the script. I can't be Olivia Newton John or Kelli O'Hara. So, instead of trying to emulate another performer, my job is to bring the best of myself, be truthful, and honor the piece and the director's vision. When creating a role, there's a little more flexibility in who the character becomes. In the three instances I got to create roles, I began to feel the roles were being written around ME, my strengths, my mannerisms, my essence... I was able to be in the room and make suggestions and live through daily script changes until we all felt they were right. In a revival, I feel more bound to what already exists in the script as opposed to feeling like the words and actions are being sculpted around who I am and what I bring to the creative process."

While you've been in several long running shows on Broadway, you've also, unfortunately, appeared in a couple that didn't run long. What can you tell us about some of the positive things in appearing in both Bonnie & Clyde and Bandstand?  

"Both of these shows gave me roles I got to completely originate, so there's a unique sense of ownership and fulfillment I attach to these two musicals.  Bonnie was a part of my life for three years of development, through numerous readings and two out-of-town runs before finally making to Broadway, so she really became a part of me.  Fortunately, we got to make a cast album, which has allowed the show to live on in ways we never imagined. Bonnie & Clyde is a fan favorite with a cult-following and is regularly performed regionally and internationally. I also got a surprise Tony nomination for my performance five months after we closed.

Bandstand was similar in that I had been a part of the development process for three years before Broadway.  Even though we only ran five months, it was the most rewarding thing I've ever done. Our tight-knit cast felt we were a part of something bigger than ourselves, telling a story that was healing, inspiring, and affecting lives in our audience every night.  Plus, I was the only actress to ever play Julia Trojan... unlike Bonnie, Julia isn't based on a real human and had never been portrayed in a movie or book or anything! So, creating and putting my mark on Julia was especially exciting and rewarding."

You've recently been a part of the "Broadway Princess Party", what can you tell us about that?

"The 'Broadway Princess Party' is a concert series I co-created four and a half years ago with my music director friend, Benjamin Rauhala.  What started as a one-night gig a club in New York has grown into a nationally-touring concert series, starring your favorite Broadway princesses!  Our roster (the #PrincessPosse) currently includes me (Cinderella), Susan Egan (Beauty & The Beast/Disney's Hercules film), Courtney Reed (Aladdin), Christy Altomare (Anastasia), Arielle Jacobs (Aladdin), Anneliese van der Pol (Beauty & The Beast/Disney Channel's 'Raven's Home'), and Patti Murin (Frozen). We have an official LLC and a whole line of merchandise!  Find our tour schedule and official merch at, and follow along on all of our adventures @bwayprincesspty!  It's been a lot of work learning how to be on the business side in addition to being on the creative side of BPP, but we have the most joyful, magical time working, traveling, and performing together." 

In the past year you also played Shirley MacLaine in an episode of the well regarded "Fosse / Verdon" miniseries and you also appeared in a couple of recent Hallmark TV movies - what were those experiences like?

"2019 was the year of conquering my fear of being on camera! My Fosse/Verdon cameo was just one day for my two lines, but I got to be in a scene with Sam Rockwell and Michelle Williams, plus watch my pals Andy Blankenbuehler and Tommy Kail in action on set. The Hallmark experiences were such a gift -- I was so nervous at first, but the Hallmark family was so welcoming and encouraging, it became the most joyful and safe environment in which to learn and grow! I think the biggest difference I've found between theater and film is the lack of rehearsal -- I was often learning lines the morning of and blocking scenes just moments before shooting them. I had to learn to trust my instincts, immediately bond with my cast mates, and memorize in the moment, all while trying to act as naturally as possible.  I hope I get the opportunity to do more and continue to develop my confidence and skills behind the camera!"

You've appeared in numerous classic musicals. What other dream roles are on your bucket list? 

"Marian Paroo in The Music Man, Eliza Doolittle in My Fair Lady, Peggy Sawyer in 42nd Street or Polly Baker in Crazy For You.  The one iconic Rodgers & Hammerstein heroine I've never played yet is Laurie in Oklahoma. And checking one of the Disney princesses off the list would be fun too -- Belle, Ariel, Rapunzel...? "

Are there any theater projects you have coming up that you can talk about?  

"Nothing that I can talk about at the moment"

Before your concert in Scottsdale you'll also be conducting a master class for prospective singers and performers. What is the best advice you were given from either a teacher or performer?  

"Of all things, what sticks with me is a note my theater director wrote me in an opening night card back in high school... He simply said, 'See ya on Broadway, kid!' It was that simple encouragement, that heartfelt belief in me way back then, that he recognized my talent, my passion, and knew he would live to see my Broadway dream come true.  Sometimes it takes something as simple as that to give us the confidence and permission we need to dream big and not stop until that dream becomes a reality. "

What do you hope audiences in Scottsdale will take away from your concert?  

"Scottsdale is going to be a ball!  You'll get to hear a lot of songs and personal stories from my life and Broadway career, in addition to being entertained by one of the most hilarious and knowledgeable musicians in the biz, Seth Rudetsky!"

CLICK HERE for more information on Laura Osnes with Seth Rudetsky at Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts on Friday January 24

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