“It was heartbreaking to hear, ‘You didn’t get it,’” Laura Osnes admits.
Though she was riding high after winning Grease: You’re the One That I Want!, the reality television show that gave Osnes her Broadway debut in the 2007 revival of Grease, she heard those words in her post-Grease life after several callbacks to replace Sierra Boggess as Ariel in The Little Mermaid.
The role went to Chelsea Morgan Stock. But, lucky for Osnes, a job was right around a different corner; she replaced Kelli O’Hara as Nellie Forbush in the Tony Award-winning, lavish revival of South Pacific.
“I’ve been singing ‘Part of Your World’ since I was young,” says Osnes. “I bought Heelys for the callback because we had to Heely around at the callback, so by the time you go through two weeks of three or four auditions, you can’t help but get a little bit attached. You also can’t help but start envisioning yourself in the role a little bit, and I think every good artist does that. It’s finding this balance of pouring your heart and soul into the audition, so that you can give it your all, while also being able to walk out of the door at the end and essentially wash your hands clean of it and throw the sides away and go, ‘Okay, I did my best in the room, and now it’s out of my hands.’ That’s an art.”
But Osnes didn’t throw away those audition sides. They found their way into her closet in a binder titled “Learned for Auditions.” Though Osnes is known as a go-to leading lady on Broadway, having also starred in Anything Goes, Bonnie & Clyde, Cinderella, and the upcoming Bandstand, the binder began to fill up.
“I felt like every piece of sheet music I got was valuable and would probably come in handy at some point,” she explains, “so I ended up saving [them]. Good thing I did.”
Good thing is right. They’re the basis for her solo concert, The Paths Not Taken, playing November 27-30 at Feinstein’s/54 Below. Along with songs from shows Osnes didn’t book, the Tony-nominated performer includes material from workshops or readings that never materialized, as well as songs from gigs she couldn’t take part in because the timing wasn’t right.
The show’s message, she says, is not, “Look at these things I almost did or could have done,” but rather an affirmation that everything happens for a reason, especially in show business.
“Everybody knows I love Disney princesses,” says Broadway’s former Cinderella, so she admits that Little Mermaid was among her biggest disappointments, but “had one of those other doors opened, I would have missed out on South Pacific,” she says. “That was a life-changing experience. I say this in all my shows—I grew from being a girl to being a woman during my time as Nellie.”
During The Paths Not Taken, Osnes delves deeper into the roles that got away with songs like “Far From the Home I Love” from Fiddler on the Roof, “Popular” from Wicked, “There’s a Fine, Fine Line” from Avenue Q, and “The Heather on the Hill” from Brigadoon, as well as a song or two from Smash and My Fair Lady.
“The more I talk about this, the more I realize every actor has these stories,” she says. “I don’t know why more people don’t share [them]. When people find out I’m doing this, people immediately want to tell two or three stories of similar things that happen to them.
“The lessons you learn in hindsight, now that I’ve had almost ten years in New York… [This show] is all of those things wrapped into one. Hopefully the inspiring thing [is] knowing that in this business we’re told ‘no’ a lot, and we all have to face rejection before we can face success—or even in the midst of it. Just because I’ve had success so far doesn’t mean I still don’t get told ‘no.’”
Michael Gioia is the Features Manager at Playbill.com. Follow him on Twitter at @PlaybillMichael.