NEW YORK (USA TODAY) -- "I feel like Cinderella at the ball," coos Laura Osnes - who should know that feeling well.
Since March, Osnes, 27, has played the title role in the Broadway musical Rodgers + Hammerstein's Cinderella. Eight times a week, she gets to transform from a rag doll into a regal beauty, complete with sparkling slippers, and to glide in a converted pumpkin to a grand palace, where she meets the prince of her dreams.
There are no royalty present as Osnes stands before a full-length mirror in designer Randi Rahm's Midtown studio, where she is choosing a dress for this Sunday's Tony Awards. But Rahm, who has worked with Osnes previously and whose other clients include such pop princesses as Beyoncé and Carrie Underwood, sees potential.
"I think she's such a star," Rahm says of Osnes. Indeed, the wholesomely pretty, creamy-voiced singer/actress has done quite well for herself since winning the role of Sandy in a 2007 Broadway production of Grease on a TV talent competition. Well-received performances in revivals of South Pacific and Anything Goes followed; and last season, Osnes received her first Tony nomination, for leading actress in a musical, playing against type in Bonnie and Clyde.
Cinderella has made her a contender in the same category this year, and for the big night, she wants a gown that, as she puts it, "maybe nods to the part but is also something that I can make my own."
A royal blue chiffon dress with slits is brought out first; Rahm calls it Athena, "because it's so goddess-y." Osnes, a Minnesota native who is polite and gracious as any of the ingénues she has played, responds, "I really love it. It's so elegant ... but I don't know if it's the Tonys dress. I'm sure it could be used for something else."
Similar conclusions are made about a body-hugging number with a sleek leopard design - "Your body is just insane, Laura," Rahm gushes - and a hand-beaded black dress with a cap sleeve, which Rahm calls "very old-world Hollywood."
Osnes observes that the Rahm creation she wore recently to the Drama Desk Awards (where she was proclaimed this season's outstanding actress in a musical) had a similar silhouette and adds, as demurely as possible, that she'd "like to show just a little more skin."
The winner turns out to be strapless golden tuile, also hand-beaded, with "a little bit of a pouf" at the bottom, Osnes observes admiringly. "It's a princess dress for all princesses. It's contemporary but still classic."
Her decision made, Osnes, still in the gown, settles on a chair and reflects on how her own journey has invited comparisons to her latest character.
"People say I have my own Cinderella story, and in a way, I guess I do," she says. When she auditioned for Grease: You're the One That I Want!, the reality series that led to her Broadway debut, "I was one of the only contestants who didn't live in New York at the time. I had grown up doing theater in Minneapolis. I just packed up everything and moved. I was very lucky."
Six years later, she is still living in the moment, happily. "I'm signed on with Cinderella for a year; there's nothing else on the horizon yet. I haven't done any new readings or gotten any offers. I'm just enjoying this, soaking up every second of it."