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.
Name: Laura Osnes
Then: The two-time Tony nominee made her Broadway debut as Sandy in the 2007 revival of “Grease,” and went on to star in “Bonnie and Clyde” before originating the role of Cinderella on Broadway.
Now: After a run at the Paper Mill Playhouse in New Jersey, “Bandstand” opens on Broadway at the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre on April 26, with previews starting March 31.
Elevator pitch: “The show takes place in 1945, right after World War II. This group of vets return from the war and start a swing band to compete in a radio broadcast competition. It goes on to follow how their relationships with each other and the music that they’re creating together help heal them from the struggles and the residual darkness of the war.”
“My character is a war widow. My husband died in battle, and I get roped into being the singer of this band. In essence, yes, it’s a musical band, but it’s also a band of brothers, so to speak. And all the members of the band have something in common: they can finally find unity in each other when they’re feeling ostracized from the rest of society and trying to figure out how to fit back into the world post-war.”
Timing is everything: “I got asked to do a lab of [Bandstand], and I actually turned it down at first because I had a friend’s wedding. And they ended up changing the dates of the lab by a couple of days so that I was available. And, I was like, ‘OK, then I have to do the lab.’”
Onstage live band: “There have been productions that have done it before, shows like ‘Once’ and ‘Company,’ but what’s cool about this one is that all of the actors who play instruments are part of the plot. This is a band that is actually playing clubs and writing music and we’re getting to see the band grow. It’s definitely the most musically complex show that I’ve been a part of.”
Close to Home: “My husband’s grandma was in a swing band with her husband right after World War II. When I was doing readings [for Bandstand], I didn’t really think about it. Then, as I became more involved with the show and they found out it was going to Paper Mill, my husband was, like, ‘well, you know, I think my grandma had a swing band right around that time’ and I was, like, ‘no way!’ I ended up giving her a call. She sent me some pictures and things like that, which I had printed off and put in my dressing room. They’re also going to come out [from Minnesota] for opening night, grandma and grandpa. Grandma — she just had her 92nd birthday, but she has made it to New York probably once a year since we’ve been here. Yeah, she’s still totally kicking.”
Bandstand will be the next occupant of the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre when The Color Purple vacates the venue on January 8, 2017. Directed and choreographed by Hamilton’s Andy Blankenbuehler and starring two-time Tony nominee Laura Osnes and Corey Cott, the previously announced transfer of the Paper Mill Playhouse production will begin previews on March 31. Opening night is scheduled for April 26.
Osnes and Cott will both reprise their roles in the new tuner. Set in the smoke filled, swing fueled night clubs of 1945, Bandstand brings the against-all-odds story of singer/songwriter Donny Novitski (Cott) and his band of mismatched fellow WWII veterans to the stage. When a national radio contest to find America’s next big swing band offers a chance at instant fame and Hollywood fortune, Donny must whip his wise-cracking gang of jazzers into fighting shape. Teaming up with the beautiful young war widow Julia (Osnes) as their singer, they struggle to confront the lingering effects and secrets of the battlefield that threaten to tear them apart. Playing for every voiceless underdog in a world that has left them behind, they risk everything in the final live broadcast to redefine the meaning of victory. With an explosive original score and choreography inspired by the high energy swing rhythms of the era, Bandstand is a truly American story of love, loss, triumph and the everyday men and women whose personal bravery defined a nation.
With music by Richard Oberacker, and a book and lyrics by Oberacker and Robert Taylor, the original score is strongly influenced by authentic 1940s swing music, much of which is played onstage by the characters and band members.
Additional casting and creative team will be announced shortly. The Paper Mill company also included Tony winner Beth Leavel, Joe Carroll, Brandon J. Ellis, James Nathan Hopkins, Geoff Packard and Joey Pero.
Following a critically acclaimed, hit world premiere engagement at Paper Mill Playhouse this fall, the new musical will open on Broadway in the 2016 – 2017 season starring Tony Award nominee Laura Osnes (Rodgers + Hammerstein’s Cinderella) and Corey Cott (Newsies).
Directed and choreographed by Tony Award winner Andy Blankenbuehler (Hamilton, In the Heights), The Bandstand features music by Richard Oberacker and a book and lyrics by Richard Oberacker and Robert Taylor.
Dates, theater and additional casting will be announced at a later date.
Andy Blankenbuehler said “It’s been really thrilling to see The Bandstand come to life for the very first time up on the stage at Paper Mill Playhouse. We’ve learned a lot about the show, and we’re excited to continue working on the piece as we focus towards an opening in New York next year. The show’s heart is huge, and its voice is both unique and exciting. I’m very, very thankful to be part of this team!”
Set in 1945, The Bandstand tells the story of musician Donny Novitski who is about to take on the mission of his life: leading his band of fellow veterans into competition for America’s next swing band sensation. However, complicated relationships, the demands of the competition and the challenging after-effects of war may break these musicians. The original score is strongly influenced by authentic 1940s swing music, much of which is played onstage by the characters and band members. When Donny meets a beautiful, young singer named Julia, he finds the perfect harmony in words and music that could take this band of brothers all the way to the live radio broadcast finale in New York City. But to succeed, it will require every ounce of talent, stamina and raw nerve that these musicians possess.
The Bandstand features scenic design by David Korins, costume design by Paloma Young, lighting design by Jeff Croiter, sound design by Nevin Steinberg and casting by Tara Rubin Casting.
The Bandstand will be produced on Broadway by Tom Smedes, Gabrielle Palitz, Terry Schnuck and Tom Kirdahy.
Broadway’s Laura Osnes originates the role of Julia Troy in Paper Mill Playhouse’s new musical production of THE BANDSTAND, directed and choreographed by Tony Award winner Andy Blankenbuehler (Hamilton, Bring It On, In the Heights) and featuring book and lyrics by Richard Oberacker and Robert Taylor and music by Richard Oberacker.
Set in 1945, THE BANDSTAND tells the story of a mismatched band of military veterans who join together to compete in a national radio contest in New York City with a prize that will guarantee instant stardom to the winners. But with complicated relationships, the demands of the competition and the challenging after-effects of war, going all the way for a win in the contest seems like a dream that may break the talented musicians.
Today, Osnes speaks exclusively to BWW about her journey back in time in this exciting new musical.
Tell us about the story of THE BANDSTAND and your character in particular?
Well, the story takes place post-World War II, when a group of vets return from fighting in the war and start a band to compete in a radio broadcast competition. My character gets roped into being the singer for the band. Her husband has died in battle and he was friends with one of the guys, so I still kind of fit into the group in that way, and we learn that we all kind of need the music and each other to heal from the residual effects and pain that the war has played in our lives.
The actors all play their own instruments on stage. That must be extremely demanding.
Yes, I am astounded. It’s not enough just to sing, dance and act, all the guys are also playing instruments on stage, BWW Interview: Laura Osnes Journeys Back in Time in Paper Mill’s THE BANDSTANDand Corey [Cott] especially is carrying the show – he never leaves the stage. All of our costume changes are literally 60 seconds long and then we rush back on for the next scene. So he is doing a lot of heavy lifting for the show and just doing it so beautifully. I’m in awe.
I understand you had to learn to play the ukelele for your role?
[Laughing] I did actually! I really just had to learn part of one song on it, so to be honest I’m not completely proficient. But yes, I did have to learn that song on the uke and I’ve been practicing a lot.
Did you do research on the time period to help you create your character?
Absolutely. There are so many resources out there. There’s wonderful movies and documentaries that have been made about the war, which help us get a glimpse into the horrors that these guys experienced. I mean how rare it was to actually survive it, really. Four years of fighting, these guys were considered the lucky ones who made it home, but then they were dealing with all that stuff for the rest of their lives.
And I feel that there’s not really a musical and maybe not even a movie that quite depicts the after effects in this way and shows how to move on from it and how to heal from it and the tactics these guys needed to learn to get back to the lives they had before, which of course is impossible. They will never be unscarred from what they saw and what they went through. And I love that the musical deals with that. And don’t get me wrong, it is a fun, fun musical and it’s a ball, but I love that it actually is real and goes to that place, and doesn’t just skirt over the issues the way a lot of the movies and musicals of the time period did.
And the truth is, the story can be relevant to anyone who has experienced that type of trauma.
Yes. And of course there’s still wars going on today. I mean World War II, it really impacted our country unlike any other war has, and now we are so much more equipped to deal with those things. But people have still lost people or have friends or family members who are in the military and still fighting. It’s so admirable and incredible.
I heard that the book writers didn’t even realize how deep these characters were going to be when they first began to write the story. It was the characters themselves who dictated that to them as they progressed.
Fascinating. Yes that’s cool.
You are working with the wonderful Andy Blankenbuehler. What has that experience been like?
Oh my gosh, I am such a fan of his! I kind of geek out everyday in rehearsal knowing that he is just being a genius putting this thing together. He is just so smart and as a person he is completely in charge, such a wonderful leader, very positive. I always look forward to going to rehearsal because you can tell everything that is going on in his brain, almost like the movie of his mind. He is so creative and he tries to capture that vision and live it out and he’s really succeeding in that. I just think he’s so brilliant, it’s been really fun watching him work and getting to create this with him.
This is your first time doing a Paper Mill production.
Yes and it’s been great. It’s such a little family here. A lot of crew and wardrobe and hair people have been here for years so its cool to kind of step into the family that they have created. And everybody’s been very supportive and wonderful. And Millburn is such a cute little town and we all take a van together, we shuttle from Manhattan to Paper Mill every morning and evening. And the best part is we have real van-bonding time!
This is not your first time originating a role, and of course you have also revised many iconic characters. Do you have a preference or are both just very unique experiences?
Well I think they are very different, but I think every actor is excited to be able to create a role, absolutely. When there’s no pre-conceived notion as to what the role should be or who has played it before, or any expectation to live up to, that is so freeing as an actress. I am getting to establish who this character is for everybody and that’s really exciting. And Corey and I are going to do that together, all of us are, because it’s all brand new. There’s not a movie of it, there’s not a play, there’s not a book. It’s an original idea and its super exciting to be creating that in the room with everybody.
And revivals are great, revivals are fantastic and they have a built-in audience and there’s something special about that as well. I mean for this show, we just hope it finds its audience because nobody knows what it is right now. But hopefully the show speaks for itself and the people who are going to come are going to love it because we all love it like crazy. So yes, while there’s something great to be said about revivals, there’s something really exciting about creating something that’s brand new.
And I think audiences are looking for that these days.
I think so too – I know I am. I mean original musicals, I’m trying to get behind them for sure!
The Bandstand will be performed at Paper Mill Playhouse eight times a week, Wednesday through Sunday. Performance schedule: Wednesday at 7:30pm, Thursday at 1:30pm and 7:30pm, Friday at 8:00pm, Saturday at 1:30pm and 8:00pm and Sunday at 1:30pm and 7:00pm. Tickets are on sale now and range from $29 to $102. Tickets may be purchased by calling 973.376.4343, at the Paper Mill Playhouse Box Office at 22 Brookside Drive in Millburn, or online at www.PaperMill.org. Visa, MasterCard, Discover, and American Express accepted. Groups of 10 or more can receive up to a 40% discount on tickets and should call 973.315.1680. College students can order $20 rush tickets over the phone or in person at the Paper Mill Playhouse Box Office on the day of the performance.