THE LEADING MEN: Donny Osmond Back on Broadway

By Tom Nondorf
14 Dec 2010

Donny Osmond
Donny Osmond
Photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN

Donny Osmond was once "a little bit rock 'n' roll" on TV opposite his sister, Marie, who was "a little bit country." Now they're on Broadway together, offering a little Christmas cheer.

*

When Donny & Marie — A Broadway Christmas opened at the Marquis Theatre on Dec. 9 (now running through Jan. 2), Donny's first appearance onstage was greeted by the spontaneous singing of "Happy Birthday" by an audience that knew it was his 53rd birthday. What better place for Donny Osmond to celebrate his birthday than at his and sister Marie's Broadway debut together?

Donny, an entertainer for almost 50 years now, started performing as a kid singing with his brothers on "The Andy Williams Show." He opened the '70s as a teen idol and finished the decade co-starring with Marie on their hit ABC variety show. He has since reinvented himself as a pop-star, game-show host, musical theatre actor, "Dancing With the Stars" winner — on and on it goes.



No stone of his or Marie's career is left unturned in A Broadway Christmas. It begins with D&M doing holiday and pop duets, sees Marie take over for solo turns followed by Donny going all-out on songs ranging from a brand-new ballad called "Christmas in New York" to the thundering madness of the Osmond Brothers' 1972 hit "Crazy Horses" before the siblings reunite for more holiday tunes, good-natured ribbing and walks down Osmond memory lane.

Between tapings of "Good Morning America" and "The View," Donny graciously walked with me down his own theatrical memory lane, focusing on his stage career — and where he dreams A Broadway Christmas could lead his and Marie's future...

Are you enjoying being in New York City at Christmas?
Well, it's such a cliché: "There's nothing like New York at Christmastime." Everybody says that, but there is truth to it. I was born in Utah, but contrary to popular belief, I grew up in L.A. — I grew up out of a suitcase, really. But you gotta be in New York at some point if you're going to be in show business. One of my family's special Christmas memories is having Christmas at the Marriott Marquis, because when I was doing Gaston in Beauty and the Beast, it was around the Christmas holiday break, so I flew my entire family out and we had Christmas at the Marriott, so we're going to repeat that again this year. Not the whole family, but my youngest. The older boys are married.

 

Osmond in Beauty and the Beast
photo by Aubrey Reuben

You as Gaston in Beauty and the Beast was inspired casting…
It was a blast playing Gaston. After my four-month run, I was over in England and I got a call from the Beauty producers saying, "We'd like you to be the final Gaston of the Broadway run." I said, "That's a nice honor, but I'm in England!" They said, "Can you work it out?" So I did it. I only had three or four hours to re-rehearse everything in the beer-clinking number that Gaston does, which is so complicated, but we pulled it off, and I was the final Gaston. I closed the show.

After the "Donny & Marie" variety show ended in 1979, the first I remember hearing about you was when you toured in the popular revival of Andrew Lloyd Webber's Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. What did that show mean to you?
Well, to me, that was a very key element in rebuilding my career. My song "Soldier of Love" came out in '89, and that put me back on the music charts. That kind of knocked people in the head with "Hey, Donny might still be a viable guy." But it wasn't until I did theatre that people realized I was legit, because you can hide behind all kinds of trickery in the studio — as a lot of artists nowadays do — but you can't hide on the stage. So I signed a six-month contract with Joseph, and finally after six years and 2,000 performances, I thought I had to challenge myself again — hang up the loincloth, as it were — but I will always look back at those Joseph times as a critical period in my career.

You announced this Christmas show and almost immediately extended the run 'til Dec. 30 — and now to Jan. 2. How encouraged are you by that?
This is very presumptuous of me to say this, but my dream right now is, if this works — and we hope it does — is to make this a tradition. You know, Christmas with The Rockettes, and Christmas with Donny and Marie. That is our dream. I hope it happens, because that would be a nice little tradition for Marie and myself to have. And think about the possibilities! Here's what I would like to see, riffing on the dream here: Donny & Marie's Broadway Christmas, but what if you bring in a Justin Bieber or a Diana Ross? We host it, and they present it, and you bring in, say, the Black-Eyed Peas. Wouldn't that be cool? The Black-Eyed Peas perform at the Donny & Marie Christmas. If we do it right, it becomes so cool, it's like David Bowie and Bing Crosby singing together. Those things that are so odd that they work, and if we do it right, we could create that really cool tradition. But you never know. So many shows have been launched in New York, and you think they are going to work. I did one back in '81 called Little Johnny Jones, and it opened and closed the same night. Who woulda thunk?

I wasn't going to ask, but since you brought it up, what is your memory of that experience?
One word: "Ouch." [Laughs]. But I enjoyed it, Tom. It was a great time for me to reset myself and retool who Donny Osmond was. The show was great, but it was the wrong time, the wrong property for Donny Osmond to go to, right from the "Donny & Marie Show," to an All-American apple pie kind of show, it was destined to close. I was talking to [producer] Jim Nederlander Sr. about it. He was the man who pulled the plug, and when I was here doing Beauty and the Beast I said, "I just gotta go say hi to the man who changed my life." And we had a great talk. Matter of fact, now [the Nederlanders] are involved in this show that Marie and I are doing.

 Continued...