Along with being a dazzling triple threat talent, Laura Osnes is that rarity — a really beautiful Broadway leading lady, the first, I think, since Melissa Errico in a field dominated by women whose looks, since Merman and Mary Martin, veer more toward the cute, if not downright eccentric. She’s bringing all her refulgent gifts to Café Carlyle through June 30 in her cabaret debut, which will also feature guest stars Jeremy Jordan, Tom Wopat, and Max Crumm (35 E. 76th St.; rosewoodhotels.com/en/Carlyle).
Over a sparkling lunch at Joe Allen, she delightedly told me, “It’s being recorded live, so thrilling — my cabaret debut and I’ve never made an album! It will have some musical theater, American Songbook things, and a couple of songs that I’m known for, with a mixture of some smoky, jazzy renditions and Norah Jones-style folk rock things which I love to do and never get to. I’m doing one song from my show ‘Bonnie & Clyde’ and another Frank Wildhorn song. Also a song from ‘South Pacific’; ‘Fever,’ which I sang on the ‘Grease’ reality TV show; ‘All the Things You Are,’ which is my favorite go-to-audition song; and Sara Bareilles’ ‘Bluebird,’ so beautiful. I’m trying to appeal to both crowds, the typical Carlyle Upper East Siders and then maybe some new, younger people I might draw there for the first time, like some of my friends.
“My husband, Nathan Johnson, is coming and we’re singing a song together. He was an actor I met doing a show together in Minnesota. We got married and moved here, but he’s now doing photography. He does all kinds of things, including all the shots for ‘Bonnie & Clyde,’ and all my headshots, too. Aren’t I lucky? We just celebrated our five-year anniversary. Kids are maybe another five years away. I’m young still and I don’t know if we want to raise kids in the city. Maybe we’ll end up being bi-coastal. I like LA, but not as much as New York. To have both would be perfect, theater here and LA for the warm weather and auditions. I was in the final three under consideration for ‘Smash,’ but I was doing ‘Anything Goes’ at the time and was a little bit unavailable, but I made it to the final.”
I told Osnes she wuz robbed of a Tony for “Bonnie,” but she laughed, “Audra deserved it! It was my first nomination and I was not expecting to win, but so honored to be there. I got all dolled up in this Reem Acra dress no had ever worn before. They said no one’s been able to pull it off, but I fell in love with it, the color and that sexy side slit.
“I actually wore three dresses that night, two by Roberto Cavalli for the official Tony Plaza party and the O&M afterparty at the Carlyle. I’m such a girl, changed twice in the car. My stylist, John McNulty, and I found a lot of dresses we liked, so what other night could you do that?
“I told people it was like getting married again. The crew came over at 3 p.m. to get me ready with hair, makeup, nails. Then the car picked us up and you walk the red carpet with flashbulbs going off making you feel like a movie star. My husband looked dreamy in his tux, and we sat in the seventh row on the aisle. I’m next to James Earl Jones and Angela Lansbury — what am I doing there?! We were out ‘til 4:30 — the Plaza was incredible, tons of food, live jazz band, and frozen yogurt in the basement, which sent me over the moon! We got to the Carlyle at 2 a.m.”
Coming up is Rodgers & Hammerstein’s “Cinderella”: “We’re doing a three week workshop in July to realize some of the imaginative and costume effects, like a giant they’re going to have in it. Still no specific dates for fall or winter — we’re waiting for theater availability. [Book writer] Douglas Carter Beane is so fun, and I keep asking William Ivey Long about my big gown and magic transformation. He says, ‘All I can tell you, Laura, is that it’s all going to be magical.’ He doesn’t want me to go behind a tree or something. It’s going to be an instant transformation, and I’m so excited.
“We have a stellar cast with Santino Fontana as my Prince. It’s been made into a TV movie three times, but never on Broadway, so in a sense it is a new musical.”
“Old Jews Telling Jokes” at the Westside Theater (407 W. 43rd St.; oldjewstellingjokes.com) will absolutely make you laugh more than any show currently running. My favorite: “They made a doll of my mother. You pull the string and she says, “Again with the string?” Marilyn Sokol was absolutely born to be in this production, giving you every imaginable variation on the classic yenta, as well as one very horny sheep. I’ve adored her since my very first visit to New York when I saw her in the sexiest production imaginable of “The Beggars’ Opera” at the defunct McAlpin Theater, as well as hilarious Johnny Carson appearances and the cult musical “Trixie True, Teen Detective.” I’m thrilled that she’s landed in a real winner again at last.
“Our director, Marc Bruni, is fabulous,” she told me, “very low-key, but a kind of genius, with a great eye and ear. The writers are neophytes and he really brought them along, developing an arc. Jokes were culled along the way and we have many more, so as time goes on, there will be replacements. It never ends.
“Our cast is remarkable, all actors — they didn’t want stand-up comics. That mentality has a lot of anger and is very different — and everybody is so kind and generous. It’s the kind of thing that makes you want to pinch yourself. My agent called me, ‘Are you interested in this?’ And I said, ‘Sure! I love the title.’ We all met for breakfast and I said, ‘You know, I’m supposed to be doing something else so I need to know if you want me,’ and that afternoon they said yes.
“I wish my parents were here to see it. We work very hard from entrance to entrance, going from wing to wing and not knowing what’s next. We still keep the order of things on our dressing room tables and have to check. You know, young Bill Army isn’t Jewish and we laughed at the cute way he mispronounced Yiddish at the beginning, but now he nails it, the old Jewish grandfather thing.”
Sokol was born in the Bronx, but raised around DC, studied drama and Spanish literature in college (she teaches theater — wonderfully — at Lehman College). She got her first break as The Gypsy in the road company of “Man of La Mancha” with José Ferrer and Richard Kiley, choreographed by Jack Cole (“who ruined more dancers’ knees!”).
She appeared on Broadway and did cabaret in the 1970s Golden Age at places like Reno Sweeney alongside Diane Keaton, which brought her to the attention of Johnny Carson: “[Unlike what others say about him] he was always very talkative and friendly with me during the breaks. He liked me until I accidentally mooned him on the show. It was always very air-conditioned there and I was wearing a synthetic fabric dress, which suddenly rode up. After that, I always had to clear everything with the NBC censors.”
Sokol’s first big movie was “Foul Play,” with Chevy Chase, who “complained to our very nice director, Colin Higgins, that I was getting too close to him in our scenes. But Dudley Moore was lovely, and so was Goldie Hawn. I had my dear friend, [the late] Lenny Baker help me with all my lines, and Goldie was impressed with my work and got very serious with me, acting-wise.”
“Can’t Stop the Music” is a definite cult classic: “I had a very good time and went out with Bruce Jenner one night, but he got a little pissed off because I was flirting with the waiter. But he had a beautiful Porsche Targa.” (About Jenner’s facial work, Sokol said, “He’s an American Olympic hero, leave him alone, really!”)
About “Can’t Stop,” she said, “Felipe Rose, the Indian in the Village People, and I became very friendly, but I was very disappointed because I thought it was going to be at least halfway successful, but it was lambasted. Now it’s a big deal and the Village People have had a resurgence, but then they had a manager who was like a real peek into Machiavellian managing.
“And there was [producer] Allan Carr, who said to me, ‘If you have your nose done and bleach your hair, you’ll rule the world.’ But I did that, and I didn’t rule the world! I actually had my nose done because I couldn’t breathe, otherwise never would have done it.”
“Nancy Walker really didn’t direct it. It was mostly the cinematographer [Bill Butler], and I think she was getting sick with the cancer then already. Carr was her manager, and there was a lot of drama around Valerie Perrine, under pressure because this was her big starring role.
“It was very pretty to look at, but I would not know if there were a lot of drugs around, as I was not privy to that because I didn’t do it myself. Allan thought Steve Guttenberg was going to be a great big star. Why do people make fun of him?”
Unlike so many in the biz, Sokol doesn’t have a bitchy bone in her body: “That’s because I’ve been bitched upon. Travolta, Cruise, these people work hard and what they do in their private lives is really nobody’s business. When I was a kid, there was a girl with my initials, also named Marilyn, and she was rumored to be slutty. So we got confused and people thought it was me, and I can’t tell you how hurtful it was.”
As this is Pride time, I can think of no one more deserving of being celebrated than David Leddick, the ultimate international Renaissance guy. An invaluable gay historian and author of more than 20 books, his latest two projects are his puckish, sexy latest, “How to Be Gay in the 21st Century,” and, coming out July 15, “Gorgeous Gallery” (Bruno Gmunder), which he describes as “the first art book of its kind to combine what is considered ‘popular’ sexual art with ‘fine’ art. The message is clear, new, and bold — great art and great sex can co-exist. The book’s collection spans three genres — the classic ‘gay spirit’ of the 20th century, trend-setting contemporary artists at their most sexual, and a newer group of avant-garde artists largely unseen and unknown until now.”
Leddick will sign copies of “Gorgeous Gallery” at Rizzoli Bookstore, 31 W. 57th St., on July 12 at 5:30 p.m.
I devoured Leddick’s wonderful, must-have “Intimate Companions,” which detailed the interlocking lives of Lincoln Kirstein, George Platt Lynes, and Paul Cadmus, besides painting a vibrant portrait of Manhattan gay life from the 1940s on. Before all the writing, however, he was a brilliant ad man in those fabled “Mad Men” days, as worldwide creative director at Grey and McCann Erickson for clients like Revlon and L’Oreal, so clever and successful that he was not only fully accepted, sexuality and all, but basically wrote his own ticket regarding his work schedule and desire to live abroad.
Leddick is someone you simply want to be when you grow up and a spectacular raconteur, as well as being the most sartorially elegant man I’ve ever met. Leddick, who also served as a naval officer, acted, directed, wrote musicals, and danced with the Metropolitan Opera, is one fabulous self-creation everyone needs to know about (davidleddick.net), learn from, and laugh with.