THE LEADING MEN: Donny Osmond Back on Broadway

By Tom Nondorf
December 14, 2010

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.

Marie Osmond surprises Donny with a cake to celebrate his 53rd birthday, following their first performance
photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN

I've heard you say that playing The Phantom is a dream role of yours. True?
I was offered the role by Andrew Lloyd Weber himself, he wanted me to play the Phantom, and I know that's such a cliché show and it's been around forever, but he wanted me to do it in the West End. When I was doing Joseph in Toronto, just about a block away was The Phantom, and for the fun of it, I went over there, and I said, "I just want to sing the book." And the conductor took me in the rehearsal hall, and I sang this part where the Phantom really exerts his control over Christine... The conductor stopped me and said, "You know, that's perfect, that's the way Andrew wrote it." The next thing I know, Andrew offers me the role of the Phantom in the West End, and I couldn't; I had a contract for some other things. There's a lot of great roles out there, but to play The Phantom, a twisted man, would be a fun role for me.

What's your favorite song to sing in the current show?
I always love the reaction to "Puppy Love." All these middle-aged women revert to teenage girls out there [laughs]. It's so funny to watch.

And do you have a fave to listen to Marie sing?
No. Nothing. [Laughs] And she would say the same about me!

You just count down the minutes 'til it's time for you to sing again?
Oh yeah, just count them down. "Shut the backstage speaker off! Tell me when she's done." You know, it's funny because the repartee we have on stage…two-and-a-half years ago when we started performing together again, we said, "O.K., we have to get the best writers." We got great writers, but we did our first show and we stuck to the script, and I gotta tell you it was one of the worst things we ever did [laughs]. I went into Marie's dressing room, threw the script in the garbage and said, "Now let's do it the way we want to do it." And the next show was spot-on. You can't over-think it. You can't overwrite it. It's organic. Yeah, we both get on each other's nerves. Brothers and sisters are supposed to do that, but at the end of the day — and we acknowledge it — there's something we have, after working together for so many years, that sometimes drives me crazy, or her crazy, but it works.

(Tom Nondorf can be reached at tnondord@playbill.com.)