Laura Osnes discusses The Legends of New York concert, working with Hamilton choreographer Andy Blankenbuehler, and an unforgettable Cinderella prank

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Laura Osnes has traded her glass slippers and fairy godmother for a more realistic, grittier slice-of-life story. Osnes, who received her second Tony nomination for playing Ella in Cinderella, is reuniting with her Prince Topher (Tony nominee Santino Fontana) for a one-night-only concert of The Legends of New York at Feinstein’s/54 Below. The new musical tells the story of one disillusioned man’s journey to discover the heart of New York City, which he accomplishes with some spiritual guidance in the form of an angel.

Osnes is also headed back to the Broadway stage this fall with the new musical The Bandstand and will also be featured on the upcoming live album Frank Wildhorn and Friends: Bonnie & Clyde and a Whole Lotta Jazz, which has a scheduled release for June 3.

A jam-packed weekend is ahead for Osnes before she takes the Feinstein’s/54 Below stage on Monday with The Legends of New York. She will be joining in a celebration of Stephen Schwartz’s work at Symphony Space on April 16 and performing in DUETS with The Write Teacher(s) at Feinstein’s 54/Below on April 17. DUETS allows young, aspiring Broadway performers to sing with the stars who inspire them.

Osnes recently caught up with Stage Door Dish to chat about The Legends of New York, returning to Broadway, and much more. 

You’re about to star in The Legends of New York, a brand new musical premiering at 54 Below. What are you most looking forward to about the concert?

I’m most excited to be with this cast. I love Santino so any opportunity to sing with him is a joy.  I learned the music about a year ago to make the demos for this show and now we’re getting to perform it live for the very first time.

Can you talk a little bit about your role in the show?

I play Sarah. She’s the wife of Abe, who is Santino’s role. Abe is a laid-off New York City cop who is on this hero’s journey to find the city’s soul and save the day, essentially. He has an encounter with an angel in Central Park. It takes place in the 70s when the city is not a very good place to be. He wants to get out of the city but Sarah loves the city and tries to make him want to stay. They come to a place in the end where they find a place of peace in the city but Abe has to go on a journey to find that for himself.

What do you love best about working with Santino?

It helps when you’ve known each other for a long time and you’re good friends. After developing Cinderella together and then doing it on Broadway, it was over two years of that in full. Now that he’s in LA a lot doing TV stuff, we haven’t gotten to perform together in over two years. We left Cinderella two years ago.  I think he’s so smart, such a great actor and scene partner, and he has an amazing voice. He just makes me laugh. He’s like a big brother. We’re good pals and we have a good time together.

Do you have a particularly memorable moment from working with him?

Yes, so many! The one that comes to mind is that we would always try to one up each other on stage and make each other laugh. But Santino always beat me. Always. Every time I came up with something that I thought was really smart and clever, he would always beat me.

One day, I brought a jelly bean onstage. When he puts the slipper on me and it fits, he kisses my hand. He kissed my hand and I gave him the jelly bean. I was laughing inside thinking, ‘Ha-ha, I got you. Now you have a jelly bean in your hand.’ Then, I go to put on my other slipper, and he reaches and puts the jelly bean in my shoe right before I get my foot in there. Now all of a sudden, I have a jelly bean in my shoe. He got me back. He and I were laughing so hard. The rest of the cast had no idea what was going on. We were supposed to sing the final song – a little reprise of ‘Ten Minutes Ago’ – and we almost couldn’t do it. It was the hardest acting exercise I’ve ever had to do, trying to keep a straight face and sing that reprise without laughing with a jelly bean in my shoe. It was things like that.

That’s a very unprofessional story to tell, but when you do a show 400 times, you’ve got to keep it fun for yourself.

What’s your favorite part of helping to present new music to the public?

There are so many new young writers creating amazing pieces. To help in the process of seeing them reach the light of day and be in front of people and possibly become a stage musical someday –  be it regional, be it Broadway, be it off-Broadway- is our responsibility as artists in New York City to help other artists do that.

Like you said, The Legends of New York centers on one man’s quest to find the soul of New York City. How can you relate to this in your own life, this kind of literal soul searching?

New York is a very easy place to lose your soul, especially in that time. It’s so important to find things that you love about the city and surround yourself with great people and a strong community. Everybody who moves to New York moves here with a dream. Some people are born here, obviously, but it’s also a big melting pot. To find that search for yourself in this city where it seems very competitive but is also the land of opportunity. I feel like everybody who lives in the city is kind of on that journey. Abraham is a good example of that.

What’s your favorite song from the 1970s?

Oh my gosh.  I was just at Disaster!s opening night, and they were asking, ‘What’s your favorite 70s song?’ I don’t know. ‘I Will Survive’ comes to mind. That’s the go-to. I used to sing that on karaoke in my bedroom when I was really young.

You’ll also be performing another show at 54 Below in DUETS with the Write Teachers. What do you think is the best way current Broadway actors can encourage aspiring Broadway actors to fulfill their dreams?

Doing things like this is going to be really special. I’m so excited to get to sing with my aspiring actress-to-be; her name is Stephanie. How cool for them to get to do a duet and it’s great for us too. It’s a great way to give back and plug into a life of someone who looks up to me or is inspired by me because I used to be that girl. Ten years ago, that was me. I also teach a lot of master classes, which is super fun. I know sometimes it’s really hard and there are days where I can’t stage door  or I’m not feeling well but being able to give back in that way and love on the fans who helped get you to where you are as much as you can is important.

Did you ever have a moment early in your career when you thought, ‘Oh, okay. I can actually do this Broadway thing?’

For me, I kind of had tunnel vision. Being on Broadway is something that I’ve always wanted to do since I was three years old. I remember seeing touring shows that were coming through Minneapolis, which is where I’m from, and being super inspired by them. I used to act out Les Mis and Secret Garden in my living room. I sang ‘Castle on a Cloud’ at my kindergarten talent show. Musicals were always a part of me. I had a one-track mind. It was what I always wanted to do and what I did. To be honest, I didn’t really have a defining moment. I was surrounded by parents and teachers who always said ‘yes’ to me. I’m really grateful for that.

You’re set to star with Corey Cott in the upcoming new musical, The Bandstand. What are you most looking forward to about coming back to Broadway?

I’m so ready! I’m just itching to tell a story and be in a show and be with friends and people who I love. I love the show so much. I believe in it. I think it’s a really important story that needs to be told. Corey and I are great friends so getting to work with him on this has been so fun. And I think Andy Blankenbuehler is a genius. I respect him in every way. He’s doing something so special with The Bandstand. And this role – I play a girl named Julia – is unlike any role that I’ve ever gotten to play before. I’m excited to tackle that.

In what way is she different from the other characters you’ve played?

She’s definitely still the ingenue but she’s very strong. She has a backbone. She goes on this very huge emotional journey. The story takes place post-World War II. She lost her husband in battle so she’s a war widow and she has closed up because of that. She has to rediscover and redefine herself and the joy that she used to have for life before her husband passed. She finds that in the music that this band creates. These vets return from war and start a band that is led by Corey’s character. My character gets roped into being the singer of the band. Their friendship and the music helps heal them. It’s a really beautiful thing. I get to sing swing, which is super fun. It’s a pretty big vocal show. It’s pretty belt-y,  more in the Bonnie and Clyde vein than the Rodgers and Hammerstein vein, which is really fun.

Andy Blankenbuehler, who is now famous for having choreographed Hamilton, is one of the creatives behind The Bandstand. What is it like to work with him? What’s his vision like?

He’s so smart. He has a movie in his mind of what everything should look like and what it should be. He plants that seed and tries to share it with us and then lets us run with it. He’s very collaborative and very good at telling stories. He seems to have a perfect anecdote for every situation. He’s been so great at going deep with who these characters are and being so true to the time period and investing in the backstories of each of these characters.

As a director, he’s been fantastic. Up until now, he’s been known more as a choreographer, but he directs and choreographs our show. I’ve just been so impressed with his director’s vision on this piece as well. And the choreography is so fun. There are lifts all over the place.

No one will ever be as cool as Andy Blankenbuehler. Everybody looks like rock stars up there. We feel like rock stars except we’re in the 40s. This is not the 50s or 60s rock. He just makes us all feel so cool because his choreography is awesome.

What kind of transformation can audiences expect the show to undergo from its time at Paper Mill to its Broadway premiere?

We did one reading this past winter already. There have already been some really strong changes. We’re getting more of a glimpse into the band members and their pasts  and what’s haunting them from the war and what they’re doing to deal with it. A few smaller characters have been cut; it’s honing in on the characters and the story that we really need to follow. I have one extra song in act one. My character doesn’t enter until page 23 or something. I have to catch up because we already know Corey’s character from the first 23 pages, so they added a new song for me at the beginning that I think is very helpful for her character. They’re constantly honing and changing which is going to be really helpful.

You and Corey Cott are both very outspoken about how important your faith is to you. With such a busy schedule, how do you make your faith a priority in your life?

That’s actually what’s so cool about getting to do this show with Corey. We share that. Sunday matinees are not until two or three o’clock so I still go to church every Sunday morning. My husband and I found a great church we love. It’s called Christian City Church Manhattan. We’ve been going there for eight years, since soon after we moved to the city. Occasionally, we’ll visit a couple of other churches. I know that Corey goes to Trinity Grace. I have a lot of friends who go there and I love it there too.

It’s about making it a priority to wake up and go to church on Sundays and stay plugged into that community. We have some small group stuff that happens a couple times a month. My husband and I try to prioritize that as well. Nate is on the worship team at church so he’s very involved. He sings and plays drums in the band. It’s the most important thing to find a community outside of the theatre realm to keep your priorities straight and keep you grounded in this business.

It’s also known that you really love to bake. If you could open your own little bakery, what would you call it and what would be your specialty?

There was ‘Broadway Bakery’ or something and I think that’s a little too on the nose for me. I haven’t thought enough about it yet. But my go-to is banana bread because I usually have bananas that are going bad. But I don’t think that would be our main thing. I have this really great salted chocolate chip cookie recipe that my friend Audra gave me. Those are amazing. I make those all the time. Maybe we would do a cookies and cupcakes situation. Maybe we would have not as many cookies as Schmackary’s, and not as many cupcakes as Sprinkles, but do a good combination of solid cookies and solid cupcakes with the occasional banana bread or macaroons. If my acting career doesn’t work out, I can turn to opening a bakery.

If you could travel back in time to perform in the original cast of any Broadway musical, what would you choose?

I don’t know why but the first thing that I thought of was Peter Pan. I got to play Peter Pan in high school and it was the most magical experience because I got to fly. So doing that on Broadway, whether I was with Cathy Rigby, or playing Cathy Rigby, or just a lost boy and watching Cathy Rigby fly, I think that would still be really fun. I just want to fly again, basically.

You’ve played a lot of characters who err on the side of good. Which musical theatre villain would you like to play if you got the chance?

Sweeney Todd would be pretty epic. I don’t think I would be good at it but it would be fun.

I know that you and Darren Criss have done some collaborating recently. Is there a show that you think you two would be great in together? Maybe he could be your Mrs. Lovett?

Let’s do that! That would be divine. I know Darren is going to do The Little Mermaid at the Hollywood Bowl, which is going to be awesome. I am so excited for him. The first thing that I thought of was some Disney show because we’re both Disney geeks at heart. We could be Rapunzel and Flynn or he could do The Little Mermaid again and we could be Ariel and Eric. 

What is something that people would be surprised to know about you?

I live in a tiny five-story walk-up apartment in New York with no dishwasher and no laundry in the building. That’s New York, my friends.

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About Brooke R.

"Don't wait for people to tell you who you are. Show them." - Laura Benanti

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