Broadway star Laura Osnes lends her celebrity to promote high school musicals in Minnesota

  • Article by: GRAYDON ROYCE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: February 7, 2014 - 11:13 PM

Laura Osnes, the Broadway star from Eagan, is lending her celebrity to the Hennepin Theatre Trust’s program for high school musicals.

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Laura Osnes, center, met with some of the students in Hennepin Theatre Trust’s SpotLight Musical Theatre program.

Photo: Brianna Royle Kopka,

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Laura Osnes had concluded her run as Cinderella and had a free week before she began rehearsals for “Threepenny Opera,” which will take her off-Broadway after a year in the role that earned her a second Tony nomination, won her a Drama Desk Award and further established her brand among New York producers.

So Osnes used the break to fly home to Minnesota — where she was met by the warmth of her family and friends, and the chill of this silly polar vortex thing. She got new glasses from her father, the Eagan optometrist, did some shopping, caught “Fiddler on the Roof” at Chanhassen Dinner Theatres and spent a day working in her new role as spokeswoman for the Hennepin Theatre Trust’s SpotLight Musical Theatre program, which promotes and honors high school theater productions.

Osnes is no longer the Broadway baby she was in 2007 when she left Minnesota and surprised nearly everyone other than herself by winning a reality TV competition to star in “Grease.” She’s 28 now, the veteran of several Broadway productions and a two-time Tony nominee for best actress in a musical.

“This has exceeded my expectations and hopes,” she said over lunch before hustling off to do more media appearances for SpotLight and visit with the cast of “Cabaret” at the Trust’s Pantages Theatre in downtown Minneapolis.

There was no guarantee Osnes would achieve this success. In fact, “serious” observers looked askance when “Grease” opened with two unknowns who’d won their roles through the NBC-TV show “The One That I Want.” And then, “Grease” took a pounding in the critical press. Osnes, though, was spared the toughest slaps and the production was a commercial hit.

Since then, she has won accolades in pretty much everything she’s touched — as Nellie Forbush in “South Pacific,” Hope Harcourt in “Anything Goes,” Bonnie in “Bonnie and Clyde” and Cinderella. “Threepenny” is an interesting departure for her — a limited run at the smaller off-Broadway Atlantic Theater Company.

Shrewd operator

Yet, we have learned not to question Osnes’ judgment. Her decisions are keen and calculated. Even her misses work out.

She was devastated when she didn’t get the lead in “The Little Mermaid,” but that allowed her to take the “South Pacific” gig, which introduced her to the Rodgers and Hammerstein organization. And that put her in good stead when R&H’s “Cinderella” came up. Besides, portraying two princesses in a row wouldn’t have been a good career move.

She left “Cinderella” because many of her castmates were leaving, and the alternative would have been to sign up to stay through September (pop star Carly Rae Jepsen is her replacement). Osnes recently met with director Martha Clarke and was offered the role of Polly Peachum in “Threepenny.”

“It’s a unique thing to do,” she said. “It’s darker, more artsy. I’ve been a princess for a year, and it’s fun to do this.”

Plus, it’s “pretty exciting” to work with F. Murray Abraham, who plays Polly’s father, and Michael Park as Macheath. The show opens March 12 and runs to May 4. Osnes has nothing lined up afterward, so far.

“Something will come along,” she said.

Osnes was a favorite on some scorecards last year when the Tony nominations were announced. She lost to Patina Miller of “Pippin.”

The ceremony itself was exhausting, she said. There was the red carpet, then she had to run and change into costume for a performance during the show, and then get back into her evening gown. When Miller’s name was announced, Osnes said, she was relieved. She could enjoy the rest of the evening, including the parties that went until 4 a.m.

Osnes has a Web feature, “Ask Laura,” as part of her duties with the SpotLight Awards. She answers questions from high school theater kids who would love to do the same thing she does now: How do you keep your voice in shape? Do you get to keep anything from the shows you’re in? How do you balance life and show schedules?

She was in the SpotLight program in ninth grade, back when 12 schools participated. Now there are 67 schools across Minnesota.

“I’m so honored. I feel like I’m a little hometown hero,” she said. “These kids look up to me.”

  • related content

  • Laura Osnes is part of the SpotLight Musical Theatre Program again — this time as a spokeswoman, not a ninth-grade student.

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