Woman Crush Wednesday: Laura Osnes
Laura Osnes is the kind of person whose success makes you feel good. You root for her like you’d root for a friend– a friend who happens to be one of the best, most golden-voiced actresses on Broadway. This Tony-nominated, Drama Desk-winning darling of the stage has made a name for herself in her nearly ten short years in the business. In that time she has amassed five significant Broadway credits, and she soon will be gaining a sixth when she brings Bandstand— a hit when it opened last year at Paper Mill Playhouse— to the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre in late March 2017. It’s one of the most anticipated shows of the new season, thanks in no small part to her attachment to the project.
Osnes has had an unorthodox– but no less challenging– road to Broadway. Growing up in Eagan, Minnesota, a suburb of Saint Paul, Osnes caught the performing bug when she was two and would tote a Fisher-Price boom box and microphone around her house and belt out show tunes. She found a vibrant and supportive theater community in the Twin Cities that helped her develop her talent throughout childhood and young adulthood. In 2007, America first became acquainted with her on NBC’s Grease: You’re the One That I Want!, a kind of American Idol competition for Broadway that aimed to cast “unknowns” in a revival of the musical Grease. With her Midwestern charm, singular talent, and strong work ethic, Osnes easily attracted millions of fans across the country and won a direct ticket to the Great White Way, making her debut in the summer of 2007.
Osnes has made the most of the opportunity. Since her breakout success in Grease, she has demonstrated that she is a monumentally gifted performer in the same vein as Queens Julie Andrews and Barbara Cook. This is not hyperbole. Hers is a magical, expressive soprano that trills and thrills as gorgeously as any Golden Age diva. Indeed, Osnes has built a reputation for being one of her generation’s finest interpreters of Rodgers and Hammerstein roles: she stepped in for Kelli O’Hara in Lincoln Center’s sensational production of South Pacific, starred opposite Tony Goldwyn (#LuckiestGirlEver) in Carnegie Hall’s concert production of The Sound of Music, and slayed as Julie Jordan in Rob Ashford’s mesmerizing Carousel at Chicago’s Lyric Opera last year. Some of her other work– like Cole Porter’s Anything Goes, the hysterical The Band Wagon at New York City Center, or this tap-dancing gem— may not be Rodgers and Hammerstein, but her breezy, charming performances invoked the joy and spirit of mid-century musicals.
Of course, we cannot talk about Laura Osnes in Rodgers and Hammerstein roles without mentioning her Drama Desk-winning, Tony-nominated performance as the titular glass-slipper-wearing princess in 2013’s Rodgers + Hammerstein’s Cinderella, opposite our crush Santino Fontana. Indeed, the world learned that Laura Osnes does “princess” very, very well: her natural charm and sweetness mean that princess roles seem a natural fit for a woman so at ease with sharing her gifts with the world. She has even hosted the fabulous Broadway Princess Party at 54Below several times, proving for once and for all that she is, in fact, Broadway royalty.
Though Osnes has found undeniable success as Broadway’s favorite princess, there’s a lot more to this star than glass slippers and tiaras. Osnes herself has been quick to point out that, at the end of the day, she’s just like everyone else, not a cardboard princess of perfection. In some ways, the success she has found on Broadway means that Osnes, like generations of women before her, has had to contend with an unrealistic, inauthentic, and overly simplistic image that reconstructs her less as a person, and more as a one-dimensional cut-out. As she stated in 2015:
Sometimes we are put on a pedestal in this business, and it’s hard. It’s an honor to be in a position of influence and inspire people; I absolutely love that. But I hope people know how real we are too. I’m just another person who happens to be doing what she loves and, yes, living her dream, but it’s also really hard work and I’m not perfect. It’s hard to keep it up, but on the other side of the coin, it’s what I’ve always wanted to do. I’m so thrilled to get to be in that place.
Indeed, to pigeonhole Osnes as the ingénue is to do a disservice to her monumental talent. Her acting abilities are far more nuanced than the perfectly crystalline sound of her voice would lead you to believe. She is more than capable of tackling challenging, darker roles and digging deep to portray complex characters. Look no further than her Tony-nominated performance as infamous badgirl/bank robber Bonnie Parker in the criminally short-lived Bonnie and Clyde, or her masterful rendition of “Barbara Song” in Atlantic Theater Company’s The Threepenny Opera.
We don’t love Laura Osnes just for her jaw-dropping talent; we also adore her because she’s kind, gracious, thoughtful, and unafraid to be herself. She speaks candidly about her faith and even famously turned down a role in Avenue Q because she thought it was too risqué— in other words, she holds firm to her values and demonstrates a rare strength of character that many young actors and actresses often lack. Unlike virtually every other industry in entertainment, theater trades on proximity and the magic of immediacy, and so Osnes has made herself available to fans, routinely appearing at stage doors and gamely Tweeting and Instagramming. She earns cool points for admitting to having nerded out to musicals like Les Misérables and The Secret Garden as a kid. She’s even led several workshops for aspiring actors and actresses. Her outward gaze extends beyond the profession, too, as she has participanted in Broadway’s annual sleep-out for Covenant House, a charity for homeless youth.
Unlike Disney princesses, Laura Osnes has a great sense of humor and doesn’t take herself too seriously. That much is obvious from any given episode of her Broadway.com vlog “The Princess Diary,” and the fact that she absolutely owns her obsession with frozen yogurt (we feel you, girl). Osnes is also forthright about trying to balance her professional and personal lives, a task to which everyone can relate.
No, Laura Osnes isn’t an actual princess– but that doesn’t mean we can’t adore her like one.
Photo Credit: Jerry Dalia