12 Jul 1997
After selling out houses across the United States and Canada starring in the tour of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, Donny Osmond has left the show in Toronto to join the cast of an upstate New York outdoor religious pageant, playing a prophet of the Mormon faith. He’s appearing as a prophet in the 60th annual Hill Cumorah Pageant, America's Witness To Christ, July11-12 and 15-19 in Palmyra, NY (near Rochester).
But Osmond said he plans a “major return to theatre” in a role that might surprise his legion of fans. Osmond told Playbill On-Line in an exclusive interview, “Joseph is dead. I reached the end. It’s been nearly five years. I always had a time limit on how long I’d do Joseph, but Livent just kept extending that time limit. It was wonderful and Garth (Drabinsky, Livent chairman and C.E.O.) treated me grand."
Osmond said he’d like to return to TV in a network variety show with sister Marie, he said “There’s still theatre in my plans. I’d love to come back to Broadway (where he did the George M. Cohan musical Little Johnny Jones in 1982). I’ve got some irons in the fire.”
One of those irons is that Osmond aspires to have a Phantom in his future.
Osmond said, “I’d love to bring it to Broadway. You’ve got to be really good to play Broadway, so time will tell on that. I’d be more than happy to do Toronto, Vancouver, Chicago, Minneapolis and so on. These are strong theatre cities with great threatres.”
After almost 2,000 performances as the Biblical son of Jacob who's sold into slavery by his brothers in the Joseph tour, Osmond left the show as of the Sunday, May 25 matinee at Toronto's Elgin Theatre.
"We love Donny," stated Livent press representative Grant Ramsay, "and will miss him. We'd love to have him forever!" He added that the recent Toronto engagement, which opened on March 9 and is open-ended, was Osmond's fourth return there since he began the tour in 1992.
The star said he’s doing the Hill Cumorah Pageant for for no pay. Osmond, his wife of 19 years Debbie and sons Don, Jeremy, Brandon, and Christopher arrived Friday and began commuting from their Rochester hotel to Palmyra, approximately 25 miles away.
“The whole family’s in the pageant,” said Osmond. “It’s something Debbie and I wanted to do with the family for a long time. I’ve seen the pageant a couple of times and was really quite moved by the spirituality of what I experienced. I wanted to be a part of it. It's not a career move, but a wonderful opportunity for a vacation with the family.”
Osmond said that as much as he loves what he does, “being a father always comes before anything else. I especially wanted the summer off to spend time with Don, who’s 18 and graduated from high school in May. He’ll be heading to college soon, so this may be my last opportunity for quality time with him. He’s going to study theatre, but he’s more interested in the technical aspects. He’ll have to do a little theatre to understand how that all works. His appearance in the pageant is his stage debut.”
The Hill Cumorah Pageant celebrates events depicted in the Book of Mormon. Palmyra is near the site where Joseph Smith was born and the Mormon faith originated. The Pageant is presented on seven stages at the historic Hill, part of the Drumlins chain. Osmond plays Biblical prophet Samuel the Lamanite, who foretells the birth of Christ and warns the New World to repent.
The former teen idol and star of stage, TV, and recordings "stars" in only one of the pageant's 10 scenes.
“I wear a wig, but no beard,” Osmond told Playbill O-Line. “And, in a throwback to Joseph, I’m in a loincloth. I just can’t seem to get away from loincloths!”
At a rehearsal Wednesday, July 9, the pageant which stresses realism backed by equal amounts of spectacle, the actors among the cast of 630 took Osmond at his word when he asked them -- much to the chagrin of overall production director Jerry Argetsinger -- not to hold back in a scene where they attack Samual with spears.
“I was standing high atop this wall and I told everyone below, eI want to make this look real!’ They threw the spears on cue and right at me! I ran like the dickens. Thankfully, I had on shoes with leather soles or I would have slipped. But, oh, man, one of the spears hit my right heel. If not for that shoe, I’d be in serious trouble right now. I mean, these are not prop spears. They are the real thing. With sharp points!
Other than Osmond’s big scene, he appears throughout the 90-minute presentation with the full company.
Son Don portrays Lemuel, the son of the prophet Lehi. The other Osmond children in the pageant are Brandon, 12, Jeremy, 16, and Christopher, 6. Osmond proudly pointed out that Jeremy has done community theatre. Of their esperience working together, Osmond said, “This has already been fulfilling. So many great things have happened to us here as a family and it’s terrific that we could go through them together.”
Osmond and his family of singing siblings were born in Utah, where they were reared in the Mormon faith, but to Donny Osmond “L.A.’s home. I’ve always maintained a place in Utah and recently we moved to Provo, where I plan on spending more and more time with the family. I’ve decided I want to enjoy life more!” As far as the proposed TV show with sister Marie, Osmond said, “I guess you know who’ll be our first guest! And, please, please, tell everyone that I never, never! called Rosie [O’Donnell] fat. I never uttered that word. She misconstrued what I said and then milked that little incident for all it was worth. As did Marie! [His sister, known for her practical jokes, made Osmond sing “Puppy Love,” one of his hits, to O’Donnell in a dog suit when he went back on the O’Donnell show to “apologize.”
America's Witness To Christ boasts spectacular scenes such as the Christ's nativity and ascension and special effects of fireballs, volcanos, explosions, and lightning striking a ship. The recorded score, composed by Crawford Gates, features the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, a 100-voice children's choir, and the Utah Symphony Orchestra.
Performances begin at dusk, usually at 9 PM and last approximately 90 minutes. No tickets or reservations are required for the Hill Cumorah Pageant, which has seating for 8,000. There is parking for 3,000 cars. Food concessions are available through the local Rotary and Lions Clubs.
Palmyra can be reached via the New York State Thruway, Exit 43. The Hill Cumorah Visitor's Center is two miles north on State Route 21. For further information, call (315) 597-2757.
-- By Ellis Nassour