Laura Osnes Checks Another Rodgers and Hammerstein Role Off the Bucket List in Carousel

The Broadway mainstay continues her scavenger hunt for R&H leading ladies in Chicago.

In 2012, just before Laura Osnes began her Tony-nominated and Drama Desk Award-winning turn in Cinderella, TheaterMania asked her to dream ahead to her next big Rodgers and Hammerstein role. "Carousel, please!" she said. "I would die to do that." Fortunately for her, audiences are just as eager for their Rodgers and Hammerstein and Osnes reunions, so it took less than three years for Julie Jordan to come knocking at her door.

She currently stars as the lovestruck millworker at Chicago's Lyric Opera, opposite Steven Pasquale (The Bridges of Madison County), who takes on the role of troubled carousel barker Billy Bigelow. At only 29, Osnes is near to completing the repertoire of major Rodgers and Hammerstein ingenues, with Nellie Forbush, Maria von Trapp, and Cinderella among the characters she has under her belt — two of which sit cozily on her Broadway résumé. There are already rumors of a Broadway transfer swirling round the Lyric Opera, but for now, Osnes is just reveling in the dream role outside the scrutiny of the Great White Way.

Laura Osnes stars as Julie Jordan in Rodgers and Hammerstein's Carousel at the Lyric Opera of Chicago.
Laura Osnes stars as Julie Jordan in Rodgers and Hammerstein's Carousel at the Lyric Opera of Chicago.
(© Nathan Johnson)

Have you been enjoying taking on another classic Rodgers and Hammerstein character?
It's been fantastic. This show is deeper and darker than most of the Rodgers and Hammerstein shows. I'm not really an ingenue. Julie is seen as the ingenue but there's so much more going on. She's not just the naive girl in a pretty dress. It's been really fun to find her strength. She kind of breaks the rules in the first scene and stays with this guy who everyone says is a felon…and she's fiercely loyal to him until he dies, despite his flaws. But what we're trying to find is the humanity of Billy as well. We're showing Billy and Julie's real love for each other in moments so that the audience can also justify why Julie would stay with him and not just say, Why don't you leave him?! Hopefully we're succeeding at that.

Tell me about working opposite Steven.
Oh my gosh, he's so wonderful. He's just so ungodly talented. I keep saying you have not lived until you've heard Steven sing, "Soliloquy." I kind of stop breathing every time. And [he makes] Billy human and likable. We're creating this kind of love triangle between him and Mrs. Mullin as well. The sexy Charlotte d'Amboise is playing Mrs. Mullin, so adding that twist has been really exciting. That's the girl Billy is used to having — a fling here and there but no tenderness. He has something with Julie that he's never had with anybody.

Are you enjoying doing this show outside the spotlight of Broadway?
It's kind of nice actually. People keep saying, "Is it coming to Broadway?" That's not the intention of this show. We'll see what happens. Obviously, if it garners enough attention and someone wants to get behind it and make it happen, we won't complain. But that's not the intention. The Lyric Opera has been doing Rodgers and Hammerstein the last three years and this year they happen to be doing Carousel. It's part of their season. This was not intended as an out-of-town tryout, and it's nice to just be able to come and focus on the work.

The production also features a thirty-seven piece orchestra. How does it feel singing with that behind you?
I feel like I'm in a movie. The sound of thirty-seven pieces just totally gives heart and life and depth to the storytelling. South Pacific had thirty and that's a big deal, but Cinderella had twenty-one. I do some concerts here and there where I get to sing with an orchestra, but it's a whole different game doing a show with that many people. We're still finessing that, but it is so full and so lush and so beautiful.

Osnes on Broadway in Rodgers and Hammerstein's Cinderella and South Pacific.
Osnes on Broadway in Rodgers and Hammerstein's Cinderella and South Pacific.
(© Carol Rosegg/Joan Marcus)

You've performed nearly every leading lady in the Rodgers and Hammerstein canon. Do you seek out Rodgers and Hammerstein or does Rodgers and Hammerstein seek out you?

Probably a little bit of both. Ted Chapin, who's the head of R and H, is a dear friend of mine after all of these productions that I've done. But Rob Ashford actually called me about this and put it on my radar. As months went by and I was figuring out what I wanted to do, this door stayed open and it was something that I got so excited about — working with Steve and doing this dream role — even though it was leaving the City. But it is interesting how Rodgers and Hammerstein keeps coming my way. I'm not complaining.

Have you always known this was your niche or did this come as a surprise to you?
I had no idea. I mean, I grew up watching all of those movies so yes, that's who I emulated to sound like. But I never thought I would get to kind of check them off one by one. [I thought] maybe one day I'd get to do Nellie [in South Pacific], and that was a dream come true. That was just an amazing time both personally and career-wise. And then to do Sound of Music at Carnegie Hall — like, suddenly they're calling me to sing Maria? Maria, the pivotal icon of any female musical-theater role. Hearing my voice sing those songs is just amazing. I guess I knew that that's the way I love to sing, but I can also belt and I can also do pop-country and I can also do folk. Whatever you throw at me I'll try to do, but this kind of sits in my sweet spot.

If you could only sing one R and H song for the rest of your life, what would it be?
My initial reaction was "The Sound of Music" because that one line that says "My heart will be blessed with the sound of music" gets me every time. But I have to be honest and say it's not my favorite song to sing. It's kind of low and has weird places to breathe. I'm kind of falling in love with "If I Loved You," just because it's the song of the moment. If I had to sing one for the rest of my life, it might be that one.

Laura Osnes and Steven Pasquale as Carousel's star-crossed lovers Julie Jordan and Billy Bigelow.
Laura Osnes and Steven Pasquale as Carousel's star-crossed lovers Julie Jordan and Billy Bigelow.
(© Todd Rosenberg)

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