Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Laura Osnes Sings Rodgers & Hammerstein (Again!)

Pipe Dream
Starring Laura Osnes, Will Chase, Leslie Uggams, Tom Wopat
Book and lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II; music by Richard Rodgers
Directed by Marc Bruni
Performances March 28-April 1, 2012
City Center, 151 West 55th Street, New York, NY

The Sound of Music
Starring Laura Osnes, Tony Goldwyn, Brooke Shields, Stephanie Blythe
Lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II; music by Richard Rodgers
Performance on April 24, 2012
Carnegie Hall, 7th Avenue and 57th Street, New York, NY

Since 2007, when she won the lead role of Sandy in the Broadway revival of Grease on the reality show You’re the One That I Want, Laura Osnes has become one of the most sought-after young musical performers in New York.

After winning Grease’s only raves for her fetching portrayal of the good girl gone bad, Osnes stepped into Kelli O’Hara’s Tony-nominated shoes in Lincoln Center Theater’s South Pacific, where she charmed audiences (and Paulo Szot) as Rodgers & Hammerstein’s heroine Nellie Forbush. Since then, she’s gone on to further musical success as the sweet ingenue Hope Harcourt in the current smash revival of Anything Goes and bank robber-turned-killer Clyde Barrow’s irresistible paramour in the short-lived Bonnie and Clyde.

Now, the 26-year-old Minneapolis native returns to Rodgers and Hammerstein for her next two projects. She’s co-starring with Smash's Will Chase in Pipe Dream, an obscure R&H musical that is the next Encores! production at City Center from March 28 to April 1. Then, on April 24, in a one-night only concert version of The Sound of Music at Carnegie Hall, Osnes will sing one of her most coveted roles: Maria von Trapp.

During her busy Pipe Dream rehearsal schedule, Osnes spoke about her whirlwind New York career so far.

Will Chase and Laura Osnes in Pipe Dream at Encores! (photos by Ari Mintz)
Kevin Filipski: You were in South Pacific at Lincoln Center, now you’re rehearsing for Pipe Dream at Encores!, then you do a one-night concert of The Sound of Music at Carnegie Hall. How is it singing Rodgers & Hammerstein’s classic songs again and again?
Laura Osnes: It’s always fun to visit their repertoire! Singing South Pacific and The Sound of Music is wonderful, but it’s also great to hear some of their “new” music. Pipe Dream is clever and quirky, with some of the songs sounding beautiful but random, I have to be honest. There are songs about octopuses and tide pools and other strange things. Our cast is wonderful, so even these quirky, weird songs are believable in the world of this show. Singing these songs sometime reminds me of other songs of theirs: it’s definitely flavored with the R&H touch. I also did a reading of their Cinderella, so I can’t complain that this has been a Rodgers & Hammerstein year for me!

KF: Has it been difficult adapting to the Encores! style of performing as semi-readings, with books in hand and minimal sets and costumes?
LO: We’re going to try and do this with the books, but how much we’re going to have to use them is still a question, since we just began rehearsals. Encores! shows used to be known as glorified workshops but now they’ve become kind of full-blown productions. We’ve going full out, full-scale for seven performances! We have a beautiful set with different signs and storefronts telling us where we are. It’s not elaborate, but it sets the scene nicely. As an actor, it’s so much more freeing to not use the book. It’s nice to hold it, if only to show people that we only had 10 days to put this together, but it’s also hard to be engaged in a scene with another actor by looking down at your book!

KF: How disappointed were you that Bonnie and Clyde didn’t succeed on Broadway?
LO: To be honest, that was the most fulfilling, rewarding project of my career so far. Getting to create something new is every actor’s dream. It’s like nothing else. I’d been part of that project for three years, and the character morphed around who I am instead of somebody else. It’s incredible as an artist to be part of that collaborative process where I can speak my mind about the character and how she’s being brought to life. A lot of people were shocked that I wasn’t the blonde Bonnie from the movie, but a redhead. The original Sandy in Grease was a brunette on Broadway, and in real life Bonnie was a strawberry blonde who dyed her hair red to appear different. We tried to stay true to who she really was, and she definitely was no blonde. I read four books on them: it seems that everybody who was around them then wrote a book about them. It was so much fun to get to play a real person and have the research to back my characterization up.

KF: Will you find it easy to step into some gigantic shoes to sing the role of Maria in The Sound of Music, if only for one night?
LO: In a way it will be easier, but it will also a little more intimidating, because as you say I have big shoes to fill. With Pipe Dream, nobody knows it, so there’s no real expectation, but with The Sound of Music it’s very different: everybody knows it--including me, of course--so it’s hard for me to start singing it without a British accent. I have a lot more to live up to as Maria, but I’m so excited and honored to do it. It’s a role I always dreamed about playing, but I didn’t see it coming at this time, so even singing it for one night will be amazing.

KF: It’s been five years since you won the reality-show competition to sing Sandy in the Broadway revival of Grease. How has this ride been?
LO: It’s all exceeded my expectations. I did that audition by flying out to Los Angeles with the hope that I could do it: otherwise I wouldn’t have wasted the time and money to go out there. I had a sense of peace throughout that competition, despite the competitiveness and the high stakes. I thought to myself: “If this works out, amazing, it’s my dream come true. But if not, I’ll go back to Minneapolis and someday get to New York.” When I won, I was overjoyed, but I felt that it helped me that I didn’t allow it to be life and death. But I’m grateful that it opened a lot of doors for me. There’s definitely been the stigma of the reality show that I had to prove that I could go beyond: thankfully, South Pacific happened and I was able to move on. Now I am my own entity and not just “the girl from the reality show.”

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