DIVA TALK: Catching Up With Sound of Music and Bonnie & Clyde Star Laura Osnes

Diva Talk   DIVA TALK: Catching Up With Sound of Music and Bonnie & Clyde Star Laura Osnes
News, views and reviews about the multi-talented women of the musical theatre and the concert/cabaret stage.

Laura Osnes
Laura Osnes Joseph Marzullo/WENN

Laura Osnes
It's been an extremely busy season for singing actress Laura Osnes, who boasts one of the more beautiful, crystal-clear voices in the business. The young artist jumped from playing Hope Harcourt in the terrifically toe-tapping revival of Cole Porter's Anything Goes to starring as one-half of the title role in the short-lived Frank Wildhorn musical Bonnie & Clyde. Osnes, who made her Broadway debut as Sandy in the recent revival of Grease (a role she won via the NBC reality casting show "Grease: You're the One That I Want"), was also one of the select women chosen to serenade Barbara Cook at this year's Kennedy Center Honors, and she just concluded an acclaimed engagement in the City Center Encores! mounting of the little-seen Rodgers and Hammerstein musical Pipe Dream. Now, Osnes will take on another Rodgers and Hammerstein classic, when she stars as Maria von Trapp in Carnegie Hall's upcoming concert presentation of The Sound of Music, which is scheduled for April 24 at 8 PM in the Stern Auditorium/Perelman Stage.

Gary Griffin (Encores! Lost in the Stars and Broadway's The Color Purple) will direct the one-night-only event with Rob Fisher (Broadway's Chicago) serving as musical director, conducting the Orchestra of St. Luke's. The starry company will also include Tony Goldwyn (Captain Georg von Trapp), Brooke Shields (Elsa Schraeder), Patrick Page (Max Detweiler), Stephanie Blythe (The Mother Abbess), Jake Montagnino (Friedrich von Trapp), Mary Michael Patterson (Liesl von Trapp), Nick Spangler (Rolf Gruber), Cotter Smith (Herr Zeller), Drama Desk and Obie Award recipient Reed Birney (Admiral von Schreiber), Joel Hatch (Franz, The Butler), Olivia Knutsen (Louisa von Trapp), Jacob Sutton (Kurt von Trapp), Grace Luckett (Brigitta von Trapp), Natalie Hawkins (Marta von Trapp), Charlotte Knutsen (Gretl von Trapp), Joy Hermalyn (Sister Berthe, Mistress of Novices), Linda Mugleston (Sister Margaretta, Mistress of Postulants), Faith Sherman (Sister Sophia), Veanne Cox (Frau Schmidt, the housekeeper) and Daniel Truhitte (Baron Elberfeld).

Last week I had the pleasure of chatting with the upbeat Osnes, who spoke about her many projects; that interview follows.

(Read more about Laura Osnes in the Playbill Vault.)

Question: It's been a busy year for you.
Laura Osnes: Indeed, thankfully! [Laughs.] I thought it wasn't going to be busy with my show closing, and then all of these other little opportunities came up, so I'm very grateful. Question: I wanted to go back a little bit to the Kennedy Center tribute to Barbara Cook. What was that experience like, and how did you get involved in the tribute?
Osnes: That was a surreal experience. I felt so honored to be there… The person who helped find talent for that is a friend of Frank Wildhorn's, and Frank introduced me at a [Bonnie & Clyde] rehearsal one day to him, and then I got a call from him like two weeks later. And, I also know Rob Ashford, who choreographed and directed the whole thing, so Rob had also given me a call and talked to me about that… It was the weekend after Bonnie & Clyde opened. We opened on a Thursday and happened to have Sunday and Monday off of Bonnie & Clyde because it was after opening, and we had done like 14 shows in a row. [Laughs.] So we drove down to DC after the show on Saturday night, and then the event was on Sunday, and then I came back on Monday, so it was a whirlwind weekend, but it was just incredible to be there and in that company and get to shake hands with the President. It's something you dream of doing that you never think will actually happen.

Laura Osnes and Jeremy Jordan in Bonnie & Clyde.
Photo by Nathan Johnson

Question: How nerve-wracking is it right before you go on stage in something like that, which is a one-time-only performance?
Osnes: Right, and it's on TV! It was definitely nerve-wracking, especially opening the whole segment, but we obviously had enough rehearsal, and, luckily, my snippet was short. I didn't have to carry the whole thing. It was me and six other women, so at least I knew that after my 30-second blurb, I was done, and as long as that went well, it was okay! [Laughs.] So, you know, you just try to keep your eye on the big picture and not let it weigh too much, but it was obviously a big deal, and I was very excited and just so humbled to be amidst all of those divas who I have looked up to for years.

Question: What was it like backstage with all of those women?
Osnes: Everybody was so nice, and [the Kennedy Center] took such great care of us. I had my own chauffeur for the weekend, who would pick me up from the hotel and make sure that I had tea and all of that stuff. We all took pictures together, and we all watched the show together. It was really fun, and obviously I knew almost [all of the women]. I knew Kelli [O' Hara] and Sutton [Foster] and Rebecca Luker, so it was like a little reunion, too. It was special. Definitely.

Question: Did you get to talk to Barbara Cook after the performance?
Osnes: I did, briefly. The Barbara Cook tribute ladies were split up at two tables at dinner, and I was with some of the girls not at her table. But some of them were. But I definitely went up and got to shake hands with her after. I have a personal letter from her — a thank you — that we received in the mail a couple of weeks after the event. It was definitely a thrill and an honor.

Osnes and Jeremy Jordan in Bonnie & Clyde.
photo by Nathan Johnson

Question: Getting to Bonnie & Clyde… Looking back on that experience, how disappointing was it that the musical didn't have a longer run?
Osnes: Of course, it was extremely disappointing to see it die so young, much like its title characters. [Laughs.] We [joked], "It's fate that we were meant to die young like Bonnie and Clyde." But not really — we all believed in the show so much, and I had invested three years into the project, so my heart was very attached. I loved the show, and I loved the role, and I loved the people so much. So it was really sad to see it end so soon and just not have the success that we all thought that it would have. And, I think that it's a mixture of poor timing and poor planning, and then the reviews didn't help. We opened right before the slowest month in the Broadway year. There's other elements that went into it, but it's just a shame because it really was the most fulfilling and satisfying experience of my career so far, I would say. Just getting to originate a role like that, you get very attached.

Question: Tell me about some of the high points of your involvement.
Osnes: Sure. Well, I guess going out of town and getting to see how a show grows and develops over three years of time is fascinating. And, to see how the role changed, and how I could put input into it, and how they started to write based on my strengths and who I was and what I brought to the role was just incredible. And then, the people — you become like a family. Two years in a row we spent Thanksgiving and Christmas — and my birthday falls in November, which was both times when we were out of town. So I spent a lot of holidays with these people, and when you're out of town, you really do become like a family — even more so than when you're here in New York. So we were all just so excited and all so close, and the creative team was so collaborative and so fantastic… We had so much fun. And, Jeremy [Jordan, who played Clyde] and I became such wonderful friends, and now we all miss each other. We still see each other a lot. We still keep in touch, and we try to make a point to get together and go see each other in each other's shows, and we'll always have the memories of those experiences… But, yeah, getting to create a role is just really fulfilling, as an actor, and exciting to be a part of that process. Question: And, you did get to record the score.
Osnes: Exactly! Such a treat to get that. We were all just praying and hoping that that would work out because, in a way, our show will live on through that recording.

Osnes in Pipe Dream.
Photo by Joan Marcus

Question: You also just performed in Pipe Dream at Encores! What is the Encores! experience like? I know it's very quick in getting the show on its feet.
Osnes: Yeah, it's a whirlwind, definitely, but it was so much fun. I had never done an Encores! show before, and I hope that I get to do many more. The hard thing about it is that just when you start to get to know everyone and like everyone, it's over! [Laughs.] So you're like, "Oh, bummer! Let's do this again someday." But it's really fun. It's like being shot out of a cannon. You just have to trust your instincts and go with it because there's no time to really think too deeply into anything. And, the show was so silly that if you tried to think it out and really find a subtext… That's not what this show was about, so it's kind of a perfect venue for Pipe Dream to be displayed. We weren't trying to be a big commercial hit; we were honoring this project for what it was, and ended up falling in love with it by the end. It's a charming piece, and the people were fantastic. We had a lot of fun.

Question: What's it like playing City Center, compared to one of the Broadway houses?
Osnes: It's beautiful. I kept having to remind myself to keep my chin up for that second balcony. [Laughs.] It's a huge space. The sound was great. They have really fabulous mixers there. Your voice has this nice echoey quality in that space. And, the facility is lovely. It was recently renovated. The dressing rooms are spacious. I feel bad that we couldn't make it more homey. You know, when you're only there for seven days, you don't really bring in all of the usual things you bring into a dressing room, but it's a great facility, definitely.

Question: And, that's getting recorded as well, right?
Osnes: Yes! We did a live recording, so they recorded two of our performances, and they're going to take the best of both nights and put it together into a live cast album, which apparently has never been done at Encores! before. I think the Rodgers & Hammerstein Organization thought they would never get a better group together to do this show again and wanted to record it someway because the only recording that exists is the original company from the 50s.

Question: Now you're continuing to another Rodgers & Hammerstein show.
Osnes: Right. [Laughs.]

Question: How did Sound of Music come along for you?
Osnes: That was out of the blue. I didn't even know it was happening. I had no idea, and I got a call from Rob Fisher, who is going to be the music director. Well, I actually got a call from my agent, but Rob texted me in the morning, and he said, "You're going to get a call today that I hope you say yes to." And, I thought, "Okay!" [Laughs.] And, I got a call with the offer to play Maria in a one-night-only concert of The Sound of Music at Carnegie Hall, and I started crying. [Laughs.] Like I said, I didn't even know that that was happening, so it was a big surprise, and I felt so thrilled that I was actually available for it. It's a one-night thing, and if Bonnie & Clyde was still running or if I was in another show, I wouldn't have been able to do it because it's on a Tuesday night, so it kind of works out perfectly.

Osnes in South Pacific.
photo by Joan Marcus

Question: That must have been very nice to get offered something without having to audition for it.
Osnes: Totally! Absolutely! And, especially now, in this season of being available, in a way, I'm auditioning for a lot of things, and that was such a pleasant surprise and an honor to get that phone call.

Question: Where does Sound of Music fit in your life? Were you a fan of the movie? Did you ever play the role before?
Osnes: Oh, I grew up with the movie. My best friend growing up had the collection of all the movies. He had "South Pacific" and "Oklahoma!" and "Carousel" and "Sound of Music," and we definitely watched "Sound of Music" the most. I played Brigitta when I was ten-years-old in community theatre, and I never got to do Liesl. It's so funny because I had started to think, "I think I'm too old for that now."… I never got to be Liesl, and then, all of a sudden, I get the call to be Maria, which I was not expecting either. I'm thinking, "Maybe I'm on the too-old end to play Liesl, but not yet right for Maria." [Laughs.] It just goes to show… "Okay! Miracles can happen."

Question: Have you ever performed at Carnegie Hall?
Osnes: I did once for Jimmy Nederlander's birthday celebration in 2007. I was doing Grease at the time, and the Nederlanders were producing, and he had a big birthday concert. I sang "Hopelessly Devoted" at Carnegie Hall. It was just one song, obviously, amidst a bunch of performers. This is my first full-blown concert.

Question: What does that mean to you, as an artist, getting to do the leading role?
Osnes: It's iconic. It's so iconic… I've already gotten together with Rob to go through the music, and it's nearly impossible not to sing it with a British accent because everybody has, in their minds, Julie Andrews. Like, "Raindrops on roses and whiskers on…" And, Rob was like, "No. You can be yourself. You're not trying to be her. You have to be yourself during this." There's a lot to live up to, but it's such a thrill, and, obviously, Carnegie Hall… My parents are thrilled. My dad's like, "You're singing at Carnegie Hall!" And, he's flying out for it with my grandma. It's going to be just a very special evening.

Osnes and Max Crumm on "Grease: You're the One That I Want."
Photo by NBC Photo/Paul Drinkwater

Question: When you're doing a role for a concert production rather than a stage show, do you take a different approach to it?
Osnes: I've never quite done something like this, so it'll be interesting. I've had the script and the music for about a month now, but I haven't looked at it that closely because there's been other things going on… Actually, I'm getting together tomorrow with Tony Goldwyn, who's playing Captain von Trapp, and we're going to start working on our duets and things, so that will be fun. But we do have a script, and I think I'll approach it as close to the character as possible, but I found out that we're not really in costume. I think I'm wearing two gowns, so it's all going to be implied, but I, obviously, want to play Maria accurately and not necessarily be Laura Osnes singing these songs. I think they are trying to imply as much as possible that the show is the show, and that we're portraying these characters and not just us singing the songs.

Question: When you look back at doing the Grease reality show, did you ever think you would have the opportunities that you've had this year?
Osnes: Gosh. I'm grateful for that because it put me on the map in New York, and it opened a huge door for me and made my dream come true. I had always hoped for this and this has always been my dream — Broadway has always been my dream since I was five. [Laughs.] I took that Grease opportunity very seriously in hopes that I could continue to move on and find a place for myself here, but I think it's all exceeded my expectations of how fast everything happened and how perfectly the timing has always seemed to line up for me the last five years I've been here. I've only, fortunately, been unemployed for a couple of months at a time before the next thing comes up, and even in those interim times, I've been able to sing at benefits or do random little concerts or things like that. I'm just exceedingly grateful for how perfectly the timing has come out. And, of course, you always dream and hope that will happen, but I couldn't have planned it better myself. Even in my wildest dreams, I would not have said, "Okay, by this age, I'll have been at Carnegie Hall, and by this time, I would have worked at Lincoln Center." No, it's all definitely exceeded my wildest expectations.

Question: Are there any other projects in the works you can talk about?
Osnes: Uhm, let's see! [Laughs.] There are a couple things we're in negotiations for, but nothing's been announced… So, yes, there are things rumbling, but nothing is for certain yet, but we have The Sound of Music concert, and I'm doing a workshop in July and some other concerts and things coming up. A couple things for Broadway are brewing for this fall, so we'll see what happens!

[Carnegie Hall tickets can be purchased at the Carnegie Hall Box Office, 154 West 57th Street, by calling CarnegieCharge at (212) 247-7800, or by visiting the Carnegie Hall website, carnegiehall.org.]

Well, that's all for now. Happy diva-watching! E-mail questions or comments to agans@playbill.com.

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