Such a busy girl. After getting herself Tony-nominated for her starring role in the underrated—unfairly, I might add—Bonnie and Clyde, which, as it turned out, was one of the better musicals of the 2012 Broadway season, Laura Osnes starred in the Encores! production of Pipe Dream as well as a one-night concert version of The Sound of Music at Carnegie. Now she has brought her clarion voice and stunning beauty to the swanky Café Carlyle for a two-week cabaret debut (through June 30). All you have to do is hear her one time to understand why.
She looks pretty socko, too. Leaning against the grand piano with Rapunzel hair in strapless black satin that looks, frankly, sprayed on, she’s quite a package. Unfortunately, the uneven repertoire of pop and show tunes she’s sewn like beads together doesn’t always do her justice. Five years ago, this unknown commodity from a small town in Minnesota won a national contest to appear in a Broadway revival of Grease, and since then, she’s come a long way, baby. But she is not as equally at ease singing unmelodic pop tunes as she is tackling the throbbing Broadway icons—the underwhelming Randy Newman songs she mixes in with the classics by Jule Styne, Richard Rodgers, Irving Berlin and Oscar Hammerstein have a jarring way of intruding on an otherwise pleasant musical adventure. Okay, so somebody said, “Do something contemporary for balance.” But why? Another tired rendition of “Fever” does not compare favorably with “Don’t Rain on My Parade” from Funny Girl. And songs by Alan Menken, Tim Rice and Frank Wildhorn hardly belong in the same musical Christmas stocking with Jerome Kern’s “All the Things You Are.” Ms. Osnes has so much poise and talent when she shares “’Til There Was You,” a dream song from a role she longs to play (Marian the librarian in Meredith Willson’s The Music Man), that I hate to see her waste valuable time on pop sludge like “Bluebird” by Sara Bareilles. I can understand her need to salute Frank Wildhorn with the raucous “How About a Dance” from Bonnie and Clyde, as well as one of the much-maligned composer’s better songs, “Must Be My Lucky Day.” But there is no denying that her voice loses its warmth and luster when she wanders unwisely away from standards. And she has yet to challenge her own apple pie cover-girl sweetness with anything that reflects real sadness or pain. You walk away with very little emotional involvement, knowing nothing much about her, but liking her anyway.
On opening night, she coaxed Joel Grey, her co-star in Anything Goes, from the audience for two Cole Porter songs from the show, to which both of them forgot the lyrics. But she is recording her first “live” CD during this run with special guests. If you drop in June 28, you can catch Jeremy Jordan, the bouncy star of Newsies, who played Clyde Barrow to Ms. Osnes’s Bonnie. On June 29, she will be joined by Tom Wopat. She is a solid-gold addition to the Broadway musical scene, a real Cinderella, who next season will really play one—the Julie Andrews role in the Rodgers-Hammerstein musical Cinderella. Obviously the girl is going places and I look forward to watching her do it. But at the Carlyle, playing it safe in a disappointing show is not a good way to showcase a talent as rarefied as hers. This is cabaret, and every minute counts.