DIVA TALK: Catching Up With Tony-Nominated Cinderella Star Laura Osnes
By Andrew Gans
August 16, 2013
News, views and reviews about the women of the musical theatre and the concert/cabaret stage.
Laura Osnes, the golden-voiced singing actress who made her Main Stem debut as Sandy in the Kathleen Marshall-helmed revival of Grease, is currently starring in the title role of the Broadway debut of Rodgers & Hammerstein's Cinderella, a property that began its life as a 1957 TV special starring Oscar winner Julie Andrews. Osnes, who received her second Tony nomination (her first came for her work in Bonnie & Clyde) for her performance as the downtrodden princess-to-be, is no run-of-the-mill fairytale character. With the aid of a new libretto by multiple Tony nominee Douglas Carter Beane, Osnes' beautifully sung (Cinder)Ella is a princess for our time, one who stands up for the rights of others and takes matters of her future into her own hands, all the while viewing the world through a glass slipper that is definitely more than half-full. The multitalented artist, whose Broadway resumé also includes the critically acclaimed revivals of Anything Goes and South Pacific, also shines on her newest solo recording, "If I Tell You: The Songs of Maury Yeston," which is now available on the PS Classics label. I recently had the pleasure of chatting with the Broadway favorite about her newest role and recording; that interview follows.
Question: Since Cinderella is a fairytale, I was wondering how you approached the role. Laura Osnes: It's a very well-known story and a very well-known character, so in a way, it felt like I had to pay homage to what everybody expects, but our script is completely new, brand-new by Douglas Carter Beane. So I feel like all I had to do was be truthful to what was written and portray it that way. To be honest, that was my approach. I actually haven’t seen the Julie Andrews or Lesley Ann Warren versions all the way through. I saw the Brandy version once right after it came out on TV. But I haven’t gone and tried to copy any of their performances. I’ve just tried to be truthful to who this character is and what Douglas wrote.
photo by Carol Rosegg
Question: What have been the challenges of playing Cinderella? Osnes: It’s a very physical role. I’m doing a lot of running around, and I’m on stage a lot. It’s exhausting, but it’s very fun. Obviously, I get to play a princess, so I have beautiful costumes designed by William Ivey Long, and the cast is absolutely fantastic. I love going to work every day and working with some of these amazing actresses as well as really funny and wonderfully lovely people. One of the main challenges for me was marrying the Rodgers and Hammerstein classic score with the kind of more contemporary, witty book. I think that was one of all of our challenges. Over the period of doing workshops and readings of the show before starting previews on Broadway, that was the main issue we were trying to iron out. And I feel like we found a really wonderful balance.
Question: Now that you’ve played her for a while, how do you view this Cinderella? How would you describe her? Osnes: I think she’s actually a Cinderella that people can look up to. I feel like Cinderellas of the past have been maybe meek or almost abused in a way. This Cinderella is no different in that way, but she’s known for her charity, her generosity, her kindness and her forgiveness, and she has these qualities that are admirable and she cares about other people before she cares about herself. I feel like in helping other people get what they want, the Prince helps her find out what she wants as well. I feel like that element of our storytelling, what Doug did with our book, is different and more special than other versions of Cinderella.
Osnes in Cinderella.
Photo by Carol Rosegg
Question: Do you have a favorite moment for her? Is there something you look forward to each night? Osnes: I do really love the costume transformations. It’s on-stage magic, and hearing the audience respond every night to seeing that is really special. I haven’t done a show where that’s happened before, and I get to do three transformations, and each one is more exciting and impressive than the next! So that’s kind of my favorite part.
Question: They are great fun to watch and try to figure out how the costumes work. Has there ever been a night where it didn’t quite work? Osnes: Thank the Lord, we haven’t had any huge disasters! [Laughs.] The design behind the costumes is basically flawless. It’s old-school stage magic. The first time I ever did the transformation in the costume shop with the fake fabric – it worked. So it took a little finessing to make it look really natural, but the design behind it is all snaps and Velcro. It works! [Laughs.]
Question: I imagine there are a lot of kids coming to the show. Have there been any particular reactions from little kids that stick out in your mind? Osnes: You know, I can only really see the front row. But there have definitely been a couple days where girls in the front row have gotten up and started dancing during the ball. [Laughs.] There’s always a big reaction during the glass slipper [sequence] because they’re brought forward by the raccoon-turned-human and laid on the ground and I step into them. All the little girls in the front row are like, "The glass slipper is in there. Mommy, are they really glass? They’re so pretty...” And then seeing all the girls at the stage door – they all come in their little Cinderella dresses and tiaras. It’s really very cute.
Question: How do they react to you, when you’re out of costume at that point? Osnes: It kind of goes half and half. Half of them don’t really get it if they’re too young. All the moms are like, "She played Cinderella … What do you want to say?” They’re all really shy. They smile and don’t say anything and then the mom is speaking on behalf of the child: “We loved it – she’s so shy.” And then the other half will want to give me hugs. So it’s either like they get shy and they just stare or they want to be my best friend. [Laughs.]
Question: Tell me a bit about working with this cast – with Santino Fontana and Victoria Clark. Osnes: I love Santino. We get along so well; we have so much fun together offstage and onstage. We’ve become really, really good friends. He’s so smart, and I just admire him so much for the grounded person and the grounded actor that he is. And, Vicky is an angel on earth. She’s been a mother to everybody from the very beginning. She really is like a real-life Fairy Godmother. She takes care of everybody, and she’s so wise and warm, and I get to sing a duet with her every night. She gets to sing this gorgeous ballad to me where I get to cry into her lap. Every day I pinch myself. I saw her in Light in the Piazza seven years ago, and it’s just amazing to get to be playing opposite her in this. And, of course, Harriet Harris is a brilliant actress. She’s so into the nuance of her performance. It’s something a little new every day, and she’s just so smart and wonderful. The stepsisters are fantastic. Everyone’s really nice and really fun, and we get to tell such a fun story that we get to have a lot of fun onstage. And not that we’re goofing off, everybody’s so professional, but because of the nature of the story that we’re telling, we get to play. It feels like play everyday - it’s not really work.
Osnes and Santino Fontana
Photo by Carol Rosegg
Question: Do you think that the show has a message or does it say something to you? Osnes: Yeah, absolutely I do. Like I said earlier, I think this telling of Cinderella has a message more than any other version of it. Because it’s not left up to fate, necessarily, that the Prince and Cinderella find each other. In the other versions she happens to lose her shoe and the shoe happens to fit her. I feel like in our story, it's more about true love and the Prince and Cinderella really challenging each other to become the people they need to be and loving each other for that reason, not just because the shoe fits. They actually get a chance to know each other and fall in love with each other in our version. And this is kind of a surprise, but there’s a second event and instead of happenstance, losing her shoe, Cinderella finds the confidence in herself to say, "Find me with my shoe.” And, again, I think Cinderella’s attributes of forgiveness and charity share a good message.
Question: On a different topic, I’m really enjoying your CD of December Songs. How did that come about, tackling that song cycle? Osnes: Thank you! That was again an unforeseen match made in heaven. I was looking to do something at 54 Below. I wasn’t in a show and was kind of looking for concert opportunities. And, Maury Yeston was wanting someone to sing a concert of his music. So 54 Below kind of knew that and paired us together. I met with Maury, and we started talking about ideas, and he introduced me to the song cycle. I didn’t know it, I had never heard it or heard of it, and getting to do that concert was very special and very unique. I made my cabaret debut just last year at the Carlyle, and that was my own show. Getting to do December Songs in a cabaret-style format was so interesting because it’s like a one-woman song cycle that actually tells a story. It feels like a theatrical experience more than a cabaret, because I didn’t talk in between. We went from one song to the next, nine songs in a row – bam — I told the story in half an hour. I think audiences didn’t quite know what to expect, but then were completely drawn in by the end and completely into it. So it was very unique, but I loved getting to do it. It was a wonderful challenge for me. Getting to work with Maury was wonderful. He’s so generous…. He’s very jolly, and we had a wonderful time working together. It was all his idea to create the album. We weren’t planning on doing an album during the concert, but he came up to me after it was such a big success and said we have to record it. So we got back together in April of this year and recorded it in a studio.
Question: Would you want to do the song cycle again somewhere? Is there any talk of that? Osnes: There’s a possibility that could happen. I think that because I’m doing Cinderella, until January at least, I don't have time for other concerts. If there’s another period of downtime for a while, yes, we’d definitely pick that back up and go back to 54 Below for either a one-night engagement or another week or something, but it’d probably be a little ways away if that were to happen.
Question: Are you able to work on any other projects while you're doing Cinderella or does it take all your time? Osnes: [Laughs.] You know, it’s definitely a load to carry the show. I still am doing little things on Monday night, random benefits concerts or galas. Santino and I are doing something for the New York Pops in September. It’s all little one-night things. So there are definitely extra-curricular activities happening, but nothing huge that I’m carrying on my own.