Review by Alix Cohen
This is a love story. Last night, the audience at 54Below fell in love with musical theater leading lady, Laura Osnes. (I dare you not to.) The performer is charming, gracious, wholesome, and very, very pretty. Her authoritative contralto through soprano is a well calibrated pleasure. Osnes wears character lyrics like couture, expressively inhabiting what appears custom made.
The big surprise is that unlike countless Broadway denizens who sing over our heads, sometimes to a nonexistent balcony, Osnes moves about the stage making eye contact, drawing us in. She is as engaged and engaging as any cabaret artist who cut her teeth on the intimate genre. This very personable show offers selections from roads, i.e. roles not taken, either because she didn’t win them or due to commitments including such as Rogers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella, Bonnie and Clyde, South Pacific, and Grease. Connecting banter is fluent and friendly. Most falls so trippingly off the tongue, it seems spontaneous.
Burn the bridge, bet the store/Baby’s coming home no more/Not for the life of me… Osnes sings spot-lit from the back of the room (Thoroughly Modern Millie). She’s a young, ambitious actress arriving in New York from the Midwest. We believe every spunky word. Showcasing versatility from the get-go, a rendition of “Far From the Home I Love” (Fiddler on the Roof) is unrecognizable but for its sympathetic message. The contemporary arrangement features darkly shaded piano, bass like heartbeat, and brushes. It works!
Next is a song from Seussical which is sunny and cute as the Dickens. Osnes even proffers Horton the elephant’s “clover.” Her comic timing and innate brightness eschew saccharine. Other irrepressible portrayals include Wicked’s Glinda during which the performer gleefully chirps while brandishing a homemade wand and a bubbly cheerleader ( Bring It On) who feels opportunity ticking away at 17 and admonishes herself to put her “big girl panties” on. Atta girl!
“When I Fall in Love,” (from an as yet unproduced version of Pride and Prejudice), is simply lovely. We must share a similar mind/His character, strong and refined…Osnes’ Elizabeth Bennett exults, yet remains sufficiently tempered not to make the character appear a lightweight. Two skillfully enunciated numbers as Ann Egerman from A Little Night Music, one with a little able vocal help from Fred Lassen, offer coquettish innocence and petulance. This is not a one trick ingénue.
“Harden My Heart,” Osnes’ audition number for Rock of Ages, is completely unexpected country rock. A slight sob colors every lower octave phrase. The performer seems to hold lyric in her throat longer making it grainy. She’s sassy, animated, comfortable with insistent beat. It’s easy to imagine cowboy boots. Casting was apparently in search of something more heavy metal.
Cancellation of a revival of Brigadoon kept the artist from performing “Heather on the Hill” which she now does perched on a stool as if overlooking beloved landscape. The song is lustrous rather than declaratory, riding a delicate piano breeze. Subtle musical changes are woven in. Listen. Her rich, waltzy version of “Green Finch and Linnet Bird” (Sweeney Todd) is another musically unrecognizable number. It’s a gorgeous arrangement, but I found myself distracted from the song’s meaning here. It lost potency.
An imaginative bookending of Cole Porter’s ballad “Every Time We Say Goodbye” by “Hello Goodbye” (John Lennon), though not from Broadway, makes a delightful closing number. The enthusiastic band parrots lyrics through the Lennon.
Laura Osnes looks rather like a Faberge Egg, and like that piece of art, contains surprises. The show is enchanting.
Laura Osnes “The Paths Not Taken”
Pianist/Arranger/Music Director- Fred Lassen
Bass, Guitar-Rob Jost; Drums- Larry Lelli
54Below 254 West 54th St.(cellar)
December 12, 13, & 15