Laura Osnes is the first to admit that in the world of theater, she’s a “type” — the ingenue, the sweet, innocent young woman who watches wide-eyed as big things happen to everyone around her. After all, her career started with the lead role in Grease, a part Osnes earned by winning first place as “Small Town Sandy” on NBC’s Grease: You’re the One That I Want! reality show; later, she starred as the charming, naive leads in South Pacific and Anything Goes. Throughout her career, the two-time Tony nominee has embraced the ingenue label with open arms, but the star of the new musical Bandstand is also fully aware that the title isn’t always an easy one to carry.
“As far as roles, I’m very much an ingenue type, and there are good things and bad things about that,” Osnes says, speaking over the phone on a recent April day, before adding with a laugh, “Julie Andrews made a career out of being an ingenue, and I wouldn’t complain if my career path followed hers.”
“At the same time,” she continues, “you want to, even in those ingenue roles, try to bring depth and complexity and not make them one-dimensional. And I feel like these days, that’s the expectation… one-dimensional characters are no longer allowed. So it’s always trying to add depth, even to characters that may have been written years ago as one-dimensional.”
Osnes’ latest role, that of the talented, widowed Julia in Bandstand, could easily be seen as just an innocent newcomer, but the actor is quick to say that the character is so much more than that. “Yes, she is an ingenue, but she’s also very atypical, and her character journey is unlike any character journey I’ve gotten to explore before,” Osnes explains. “It feels like an adventure for me, personally, as an artist.”
Bandstand, about a group of World War II veterans who join together to compete in a star-making radio contest, officially opens on Broadway Apr. 26, but previews started back in March, an experience Osnes says has been “a roller coaster ride of emotions.” She’s no stranger to theater, of course, but Julia is the first character she’s gotten to fully originate.
“I’m the first person to ever set foot in her shoes,” the actor says. “As an artist, creating a role is the most fulfilling thing you can dream of doing, and I’m getting to do that with Julia.”
Osnes is also thrilled, she says, to be a part of a theater season that might be one of Broadway’s busiest yet; from Hamilton to Dear Evan Hansen to Come From Away to The Great Comet, the last few months have seen a massive number of must-see musicals hit the Great White Way, with Bandstand and others adding to the spring line-up.
“It’s really exciting to be a part of a season where so many new things are being created… but we also have our work cut out for us,” Osnes says of the competition between shows. “At the end of the day,” though, she adds, “everyone’s so supportive of everyone else, and we all just feel lucky that we’re getting to do what we love to do in this exciting season of new things.”
And while Bandstand may be the latest Broadway venture for Osnes, it certainly won’t be her last. Although it’s just speculation as of now, she’s one of the names that’s been said to be in contention for the upcoming My Fair Lady revival, set to premiere in early 2018, and while Osnes laughs off the rumors (“All I know is that I sent an email to my agent going, ‘this is happening at Lincoln Center, smiley face, smiley face,’ and she said, ‘I’ll look into it,'” she recalls), she certainly wouldn’t be opposed to giving it a shot.
“Eliza’s a dream role of mine… and I’d be thrilled to return [to Lincoln Center],” she says. But, she quickly adds with another laugh, “obviously after Bandstand has a nice, long run.”
Fingers crossed that’s the case, but there’s no denying that it’d be a total joy to see Osnes one day take on Eliza, one of the most complex and beloved ingenues to ever step foot on the Broadway stage.