Rodgers and Hammerstein’s second musical as a creative team, “Carousel”, is currently running at Lyric Opera of Chicago now through May 3. Tony-nominated actress Laura Osnes plays Julie Jordan opposite “Rescue Me”‘s Steven Pasquale as Billy Bigelow. Amidst rigorous rehearsals and performances, Osnes took the time to answer a few questions about her experience in “Carousel.”
Emily Carl: How did you get involved in “Carousel”?
Laura Osnes: Director Rob Ashford called me several months ago about this project. He said Steve Pasquale was on board to play Billy Bigelow and David Chase would be Musical Director/Conductor — I knew I had to be a part of it! Julie Jordan is also a dream role of mine.
EC: How does “Carousel” stand out amongst other musical theater productions?
LO: “Carousel” a brilliant Rodgers & Hammerstein classic. It’s tried and true, despite the controversial subject matter, and Lyric’s “Carousel”, specifically, is being told, sung, and performed in ways it never has before.
EC: What can audiences expect from this production of “Carousel”?
LO: Rob had a really smart vision to move the time period to the Great Depression era, which immediately heightens the stakes and makes our characters more desperate. Our sets by Italian artist Paulo Ventura are somehow both grand and minimalistic, creating an other-worldly playground for these characters to live in. Rob’s innovative choreography and beautiful act two ballet are a highlight of this production. It’s still this epic, classic story, with Rodgers & Hammerstein’s gorgeous score played by a 37-piece orchestra, and performed by (what many people are calling) a Dream Cast… but our aim has been to bring a deeper humanity, complexity, grit, and boldness to these characters and the storytelling.
EC: What drew you to the role of Julie?
LO: I’ve had people telling me I need to play Julie Jordan for the past couple years, so she has definitely been on my radar. I think Julie has a reputation to be played overly naive and sweet. I’ve found that she’s actually quite the atypical ingenue. As Carrie sings, she’s a “queer one” — peculiar, tight-lipped, quiet, mysterious. She’s fearless and rebellious, standing up to authority at least three times in the first scene of the show! And she displays such fierce loyalty to this flawed man she loves, not to mention the fractured 16-year journey we see her go through from beginning to end. Clearly, there are a lot of layers to play with, and I was drawn to the exciting challenge of living in Julie’s shoes.
EC: What has it been like performing opposite Steven Pasquale as Billy?
LO: Oh, I’m the luckiest. Steve is so ridiculously talented and brutishly handsome, it seems he was born to play Billy. The first time I heard him sing “Soliloquy”, I cried. His rendition is utterly astonishing and it stops the show every night. Above all, he’s been just so fun and easy to work with from day one.
EC: How do you maintain vocal health during rigorous rehearsals and performances?
LO: Well, speak of the devil. Steve and I both just had to make it through a weekend of shows feeling a bit under the weather. It’s a lot of pressure knowing our livelihood depends on our health and vocal wellness. But I know every remedy! Rest and water are often the best healers, but if I sense I’m getting sick, I also load up on Vitamin C, ginger, Throat Coat tea, Grether’s pastiles, Ricola cough drops, Singers Saving Grace throat spray, Wellness Formula, and hot lemon/honey water. And I regularly use my steamer and netti-pot. Staying healthy is an art in itself!
EC: You’ve already achieved the great honor of being nominated for a Tony- what advice do you have for aspiring performers who dream of the same honor?
LO: Everyone has a very different “success” story. There’s no five-step plan to follow to make it to Broadway, but I’ve found that being patient, proficient, prepared, humble, determined, and discerning certainly helps! Keep training, working hard, and dreaming big. And don’t be afraid to BE YOURSELF. We spend our whole careers playing someone else and trying to be what people want us to be. But only YOU can be YOU.
EC: What do you hope audience members leave feeling after seeing “Carousel”?
LO: I hope people are moved and changed and challenged after seeing our show. My goal is to have told this story in a way that makes our audience somehow understand and empathize with these flawed characters and their twisted love story. I love seeing our audience wipe their tears and jump to their feet during curtain call.
“Carousel” runs now through May 3 at Lyric Opera of Chicago. Tickets are available online or by visiting the Lyric Opera box office.