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Broadway’s Test-Tube Babies

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Broadway virgins Osnes and Crumm as Sandy and Danny.  

Unlike most reality shows, which end with a check and/or nebulous promises of future employment, GTO led to immediate, very public work. Marshall would be responsible for whatever talent the show brought to Broadway, and she singled out Crumm and Osnes as favorites early on in the program’s run. Osnes received near-perfect marks from the judges almost from the first episode; she also had the unbeatable backstory of a girl who postpones her wedding to take a shot at her Broadway dream. Crumm had a bumpier start—producer Ian told him to get a haircut, and Jim Jacobs simply didn’t like him. (Jacobs, like a lot of people, thought Crumm didn’t look like the Platonic ideal of a Danny; John Travolta does.) Crumm turned the tide with an energetic rendition of “Hard to Handle” and a weepy tale about overcoming Bell’s palsy as a child. One of the few high points of the final episodes was when the Crumm-Osnes duo clicked on a sugary sweet duet of “Endless Love.” Crumm surged. A few days before the finale, Osnes showed him a New York Times story about the four GTO finalists. He glanced at the accompanying photo and said, “Laura, I think we won.”

Crumm and Osnes certainly pass the vérité test as teenagers. Their combined body mass equals about half a Brian Dennehy. On an early-June day, the three of us met for lunch with Marshall at Angus McIndoe. Both actors had just moved into their apartments, which happen to be in the same midtown high-rise. Crumm was excited to be sitting down to a real meal after several days of ramen noodles. (Their paychecks wouldn’t start until the following week.) Osnes and her husband of three weeks, a photographer, had driven in with a U-Haul from Minnesota. Both actors were also still trying to decipher Manhattan’s codes of cool. (Each had learned, separately, that Broadway stars do not invite people out for drinks at Chevys or Applebee’s.) “Wow, this is expensive!” Osnes said with some concern, before deciding on a $17 lasagne.

Osnes has been performing nonstop since she tackled the role of a munchkin in The Wizard of Oz at age 7. “I knew that one day I’d be a Broadway actress,” she says, “and that I’d have to wait for years before I’d get anything.” The TV show was just an admittedly strange shortcut to fulfilling that dream. “This is so awesome—you’re 21, and all this is happening!”

Crumm is more of a wild card. He could easily play the wacky stoner neighbor on a CW series. He grew up outside Phoenix, a theater brat like Osnes. “I would always tell people, ‘Yeah I’ll be on Broadway one day.’ And then I started to realize that it’s really hard to get there. After high school, I was going to move to New York, but I went to L.A. because I’m kind of lazy. I was like, ‘Ah, I can get into movies and TV.’”

Not everyone here has rolled out the welcome wagon. “I was at this bar and this guy just came up and he was like, ‘Max, hi!’” Crumm says. “And I said, ‘Hi, how’s it goin’?’’ And he’s like, ‘I hate you. I think you are terrible. I cannot believe you won.’”

Marshall rushes to her stars’ defense when the question of their validity to play these roles is raised. “When people say, ‘Won’t this reality show take away from actors who’ve paid their dues?,’ I’m like, they’re 21, how many dues are you supposed to pay to play a high-school student?” she says. At the same time, she was clear at lunch that for them to soar, she was going to have to push them out of the nest. Soon. “Once we open, I go away, and you guys have the hard part,” she told them. “You don’t just have the responsibility to deliver from 8 to 10:30. You have the responsibility of leading the company.”

Neither actor seems to be taking success for granted. Osnes took half her lasagne home in a doggie bag.

The big question hanging over Crumm and Osnes is whether they have the chops to carry Grease for the nine months it will take to earn its investment back. (Grease needs to earn $35 million to $40 million to break even, says Ian.) The early consensus is that they just might. “Max may not be perfect for Danny Zuko, physically, but he has an amazing voice,” says the actor Seth Rudetsky, who fanatically blogged GTO for Playbill.com. “Laura’s gorgeous and has a lovely Broadway voice.” Andrew Lloyd Webber appeared as a guest judge on GTO and spent 40 minutes looking like a man who’d eaten bad shellfish—until he was “staggered” by Osnes’s rendition of his song “Jesus Christ Superstar.”


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