Laura Osnes is a bit of a froyo celebrity so it makes sense that one of her biggest fans in Chicago works at a frozen yogurt franchise. She’s practically an unofficial spokesperson for 16 Handles, where she and her Cinderella co-star Santino Fontana would spend many a post-show evening — just take a scroll through her Instagram or watch her vlog The Princess Diary for proof. (A store gift card is a standard fan gift at the stage door.)
Who knows what came first — the froyo or the Osnes fandom — but when Osnes announced that she’d be coming to the Windy City to star in Carousel at Lyric Opera, where the show plays through May 3, she received a Twitter message inviting her to come check out Froyo Chicago, a family-owned business that focuses on organic offerings.
Although it’s still a tad chilly outside, cold weather can’t keep her away. Osnes shows up alongside husband (and BSG Photography & Video Director) Nathan and her four-year-old Chihuahua mutt Lyla, who is social media famous in her own right with the hashtag #lylathedog. She’s dressed in what she calls “day-off, cute but comfy”: a blue and black plaid button-up with jeans and lace-up black boots. She’s also wearing what looks like chainmail earrings, a gift from Kenneth Cole. Osnes loves a good freebie, which is why she’s excited to see her fan Mike standing nearby, waiting to meet his idol and serve her complimentary froyo.
“Can I take a picture with you?” he asks, semi-reticently. “My friends are not going to believe Laura Osnes actually came.”
Osnes obliges generously and then immediately turns the spotlight on him, asking for the full tour. Nathan and Lyla say goodbye, and Osnes focuses on the froyo experience and the flavors as if she weren’t already the Broadway expert.
“Usually I would go for chocolate and peanut butter, but since it’s still morning, I’ll go with fruit flavors,” she explains, as she loads up on toppings. To her credit (and my amazement), she tries almost every flavor and fixing that she can get in her cup. How much froyo can she fit in her petite body?
We sit down on high stools to chat, but first, another freebie. Latigo gifted her a pair of block-heeled, nude shoes, after Osnes expressed her love for them during her photo shoot at the Lincoln Park Zoo earlier that week. While she calls herself a “girly girl” and adores getting dressed up for parties and red carpets, she doesn’t spend a lot on clothes.
“I wish I was a little more fashionable in my normal life. I love getting to dress up and wear high fashion stuff, but in my everyday life, I’m more frugal,” says Osnes, adding that while she was in Cinderella she worked with her friend and stylist John McNulty. She’s collaborated with the designer Randi Rahm, and she cherishes the shoes Stuart Weitzman gave her for Cinderella’s opening night. “I wear them all the time! They’re so comfortable. They’re like almost $1000. I would never buy them, but oh what a treat!”
At this, Osnes laughs, and it’s almost impossible not to smile with her, as she just exudes a purehearted kindness that seems almost inhuman. For someone with thousands of social media followers and her pick of musical theater projects, she’s surprisingly down to earth. She still boasts her Midwest nice attitude, and even after almost a decade in New York, she has kept her Minnesota phone number and her e-mail address still looks like an AOL instant messenger screen name. But this is part of her charm.
“What’s wrong with being joyful?” she says with a smile after being asked if she gets tired of reporters trying to uncover her dark side. “Sometimes we are put on a pedestal in this business, and it’s hard. It’s an honor to be in a position of influence and to inspire people; I absolutely love that. But I hope people know how real we all are too. I’m just another person who happens to be doing what she loves and yes, living her dream, but it’s also really hard work and I’m not perfect. It’s hard to keep it up, but on the other side of the coin, it’s what I’ve always wanted to do. I’m so thrilled to get to be in that place.”
However, Lyric Opera wasn’t necessarily expecting the level of fame and fans that Osnes and her Carousel co-star Steven Pasquale would bring. The actors had to ask for a rope at the stage door and a security officer to help manage crowd control. “I don’t think they’re quite used to having tons of fans wait at the stage door at the Lyric Opera!” she exclaims with a laugh.
When director Rob Ashford first called Osnes about doing Carousel, she was excited about the prospect but not 100 percent sure it was going to happen, as she is attached to a few other projects that could have gone up in New York this spring. When it looked like none of those were going to come through on this timeline, she committed, only to be offered the chance to screen test for a supporting role in a pilot. She had to make the decision: musical theater or television?
“What if that doesn’t take off, and you have to sign your life away for a supporting role? I didn’t get super excited about it, even though it would be a great opportunity,” Osnes explains. “I really want to play Julie Jordan in Carousel opposite Steve Pasquale! Like, that’s what I was more excited about doing. When the right time comes along or when I have kids in a few years and I can’t do Broadway, maybe that’s when TV will happen. To be honest, I’m super happy where I am. If it comes along, great, and I am seeking it out. I’m letting it fall when the time is right and making those choices wisely.”
Osnes is also reflecting on her career milestones as she’s looking forward to another milestone in November: her 30th birthday. After making her Broadway debut at age 21 as Sandy in Grease when she won the reality show Grease: You’re the One that I Want, Osnes has always been viewed as a bit of a theater prodigy. She still admittedly sees herself as 26, and while starring in multiple shows in your early 20s is an accomplishment, she feels like her resume is a bit more reasonable for her age now.
“It’s so funny. The younger you are, the more impressive it is with all the things you’ve done, but I don’t care,” she says. “I have a lot of girlfriends who are already in their 30s and they’re like, ‘Laura, the 30s are the best. Because you know who you are now and you have less to prove.’ I’m not scared for my 30s, but it is just weird to be like, oh my gosh, 30 years of my life has passed already. Wow.”
However, with age, comes the opportunity to play more mature and complex roles, like Julie Jordan, which Osnes admits has been a tough, though rewarding, part to tackle. She’s obviously used to the Rogers and Hammerstein canon, having played leads in South Pacific and Cinderella on Broadway and in The Sound of Music in a one-night-only Carnegie Hall concert, but Julie is an atypical heroine. And when asked which of the R&H leading ladies she most relates to, she immediately dismisses Julie from similarities to herself. “This one’s really hard,” she says. “What’s been really fun about Julie is finding that depth and that complexity and trying to put myself in her shoes. She goes through a huge emotional journey. People are like, ‘Are you having fun with the show?’ And I’m like, ‘I’m having fun with the people that I’m with.’ I have to say that Julie’s show is not a fun one to do. It’s an exhausting role.”
One of her favorite moments in the show is when Pasquale’s Billy comes up behind her at the end and embraces her. The move is reminiscent of another show Pasquale recently did on Broadway, and Osnes remembers “ugly crying” when he wrapped his arms around Kelli O’Hara in The Bridges of Madison County.
“When we were in rehearsals, and he was like I’ll just come behind and we’ll have that moment, and I was like, wait? I get my very own Steve Pasquale Bridges of Madison County moment! Like, I get to be that person now?!” she exclaims.
I look over quickly and see that she has devoured her entire frozen yogurt helping, which let’s just reiterate again, was impressive. When asked how she stays in such good shape, she guiltily admits that she doesn’t have a gym membership and might be a bit lucky considering her background as a dancer. (One thing she’s worried about with turning 30: her metabolism slowing down.) She has a sweet tooth and loves to bake. She even brought her loaf pans to Chicago, knowing that her furnished apartment might not have them, and has made banana bread several times.
She does have her own signature exercise though: the plank. Beginning with South Pacific when she had to wear a bathing suit onstage, she started finding 60 seconds during every performance to plank. She’s been doing it for one minute during every performance of every show she’s done since, and a few of her Carousel cast members have even joined her. Basically, she’s a workout instructor.
She’s also been enjoying bonding with her cast in other ways, as they have become like each other’s family being away from New York. They’ve been trying local restaurants — some favorites include The Girl and the Goat and Roka Akor — and exploring the city, which surprisingly, Osnes had never visited. “My brother was born here, but my parents moved to Minnesota before I was born,” she says. “Nate and I drove past Chicago when we moved to New York. We had just got back from our honeymoon and we drove in a U-Haul so I remember seeing Chicago on that trip.”
She’s also been spending her time in Chicago teaching seminars for students in the area, which she does with an organization called Straight from New York. She also taught a class at Northwestern University while in town, and she and Fontana recently did a seminar with undergrads at Yale as well. “I didn’t even graduate college! What’s going on?” she exclaims.
In fact, she has an engagement in the suburbs that evening so we need to conclude our froyo date. She needs time to rest on her day off before heading out. As we’re wrapping up, another Froyo Chicago employee politely stops us to ask her a question about her success. Apparently, when you’re Osnes, you are constantly a master class teacher, but she listens with poise and answers a question she’s undoubtedly received hundreds of times.
“Everybody’s journey is different,” she tells the woman, who is grateful for the time. Then she turns to me and quietly admits. “I’m only recently gaining confidence in the fact that I have something to offer.”