Laura Osnes may be handing in her ingenue card with her lead turn in Bandstand, a musical about a group of World War II veterans who form a band. The show played at Paper Mill Playhouse in Millburn, N.J., in 2015 and is currently running on Broadway.
Can you talk a little about your role and what you enjoy about it?
Julia is a war widow. She lost her husband in World War II, and she’s trying to figure out how to go on with her life. She has a song in Act I about wishing she could be who she was before she was branded with the title of “Gold Star Wife.” It’s one of the richer, more complex roles that I’ve gotten to play. I love the fact that it doesn’t skirt around the issues of the time period and what these characters were going through post-World War II. I also get to sing in a way that I haven’t really gotten to sing on Broadway. We’re doing a 1940s big band sort of feel.
The show is about veterans, and you recently worked with real war veterans in Blueprint Specials. Did that inform how you approached this show?
One hundred percent. We actually had an awesome chat with the Bandstand cast; they set up a conversation with an organization called Got Your 6, which means in military terms “Got Your Back”—your 6 o’clock. Our show has been officially 6 Certified, which means we have the stamp of approval from Got Your 6 for portraying vets authentically. They 6 Certify a lot of movies and documentaries, but we’re the first Broadway show to ever get 6 Certified.
Have you spoken to any war widows?
I haven’t, actually. My stepsister and my college roommate, both of their husbands have served at some point, so I’ve gotten some knowledge from them, but all of them are still alive—it’s just been like long-distance relationships. One way I feel like I can relate to Julia’s loss is that I lost my mom six years ago to cancer. It was fairly sudden. I think we all have experienced loss, be it through war or not, and I definitely pull from that in my performance.
The show follows a band competing for a spot on a national radio contest, and you landed your Broadway debut as Sandy in Grease through “Grease: You’re the One That I Want!” Does this feel familiar?
It has come up a couple times in rehearsal, so it is kind of a parallel: the Midwestern nobodies who were given their shot, so to speak. Midwest nobody flew to Los Angeles and waited in line and auditioned and auditioned through preliminary and preliminary. When we won the contest, it was the same as when this band wins the preliminary in Ohio, where they’re from, and then they’re supposed to get themselves to New York for the final live audition broadcasting. One of the big hiccups is that the band can’t afford to get there. That was kind of the same thing: Max Crumm and I were both like, “I’m 21! I don’t know what I’m doing, how do I find an apartment? How do I get there?” There are definitely parallels—I have flashbacks sometimes thinking about that. But it all worked out for the best.
You’ve made a career playing ingenues: Sandy in Grease, Hope Harcourt in Anything Goes, a number of Rodgers and Hammerstein heroines. Do you ever feel limited by this type?
A lot of pretty amazing women have made their careers playing ingenues, so I’m not going to complain about that. I’m very thrilled with the path my career has taken so far, and I’ve gotten to be a little bit versatile. The Rodgers and Hammerstein heroines are also still pretty complex. Nellie in South Pacific is feisty. And my Cinderella got to be strong and kind. Bonnie in Bonnie and Clyde was a fun turn to get to be a bad girl, but at the end of the day, she was a straight-A student and dreamed of being on Broadway, and I was like, “Okay, I can relate to that.” I’m able to find ways to relate to all these characters.
What was your first experience performing?
I played a Munchkin in The Wizard of Oz in second grade at a community theatre in Minnesota. I had no lines. I was not in the Lullaby League. My mom made my costume, and I loved it. I remember watching Dorothy and being like, “I want to play Dorothy someday.” And I did!
What three things would you bring if you were trapped on a desert island?
Oh, that’s tricky! I would bring my husband because he’s really handy and he would help us stay alive longer, and then I’d bring a boat so we could get off the island. And then I would bring some sort of plant that we could plant and eat from. I’m trying to be strategic more than entertaining!