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BWW Interview: Laura Osnes Journeys Back in Time in Paper Mill's THE BANDSTAND

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, and 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 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.

Laura Osnes was seen on Broadway in Rodgers + Hammerstein's Cinderella, Bonnie and Clyde, Anything Goes, South Pacific and Grease. Ms. Osnes won the 2013 Drama Desk Award for outstanding actress in a musical for her performance as Ella in Rodgers + Hammerstein's Cinderella. Ms. Osnes recently starred as Julie Jordan in Carousel at the Lyric Opera of Chicago opposite Steven Pasquale. In New York City, Ms. Osnes was featured in The Threepenny Opera, The Band Wagon, Randy Newman's Faust, Pipe Dream, The Sound of Music and more. Ms. Osnes appeared on television in Elementary (CBS), The Miraculous Year (HBO), Sondheim: The Birthday Concert (Avery Fisher Hall), Six by Sondheim (HBO) and the Kennedy Center Honors.

Photo Credit: Jerry Dalia

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