Las Vegas Sun

October 16, 2017

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Don of a new day

His good-boy image and trademark sincerity intact, Donny Osmond has come full circle as a performer.

From his first television appearance a day after his sixth birthday on Dec. 10, 1963, on "The Andy Williams Show," Osmond has been in the public eye.

But he credits Las Vegas as the foundation of his 38-year career as a pop-music icon.

"I started my whole career in Vegas," Osmond said. "I've played every single hotel, even those that aren't around anymore."

He performs Tuesday through July 14 at the Broadway Theater at New York-New York.

Osmond and his brothers opened for Shirley Bassey at the Sahara when he was 7 years old, one year after their television debut that brought the Mormon singing sensations, the Osmond Brothers, to the attention of the American public.

In 1971 the Osmond Brothers earned six gold records. The following year he collected eight. By 1974 Donny Osmond had accumulated more than two dozen gold records. His brothers fell in step behind him when he rocketed to teeny-bopper stardom at age 13, he said.

"My family has always been supportive," Osmond said. "We all support each other."

From that family foundation, Osmond and his younger sister Marie launched their career as America's sweethearts with hit records and their self-titled television variety show in the late '70s.

The Osmonds' public support of each other has been obvious with the recent tell-all books by both Donny Osmond and Marie Osmond. Last year he offered support to her when she announced on their talk show her private battle with post-partum depression.

"We are close, a close family," Osmond said. "That's been important."

That closeness extends to Osmond's immediate family: He has five boys who range in age from 3 to 21 with his wife of 21 years, Debbie.

"I stay close with them on the road," Osmond said. "There's always one of (the boys) with me."

Elvis, Broadway and back

Osmond's first headline gig was at Caesars Palace in the '70s. Frank Sinatra was in the audience for opening night. The Osmond Brothers were a Las Vegas sensation. They were invited back to play at the Las Vegas Hilton, where they stayed in Elvis Presley's suite at the King's personal invitation.

Elvis sent the young Osmonds bouquets of flowers opening night each time they headlined at the Hilton.

"Las Vegas was good to me," Osmond said.

That was then. Now it's Broadway that has revived his career.

Osmond recently recorded a 12-song CD, titled "This is the Moment," which delivers Broadway standards with a pop twist.

It's his moment to show the world what he can do.

But he almost let the moment pass.

"I was the last one to come aboard," Osmond said.

Famed producer Phil Ramone was instrumental in convincing the reluctant Osmond to record the CD.

Ramone explained to Osmond that he wanted to infuse pop with classic Broadway for a completely different sound. It took cajoling from his manager, the record company and Ramone to convince Osmond that it was the right thing to do.

"I wasn't interested in doing 'Oklahoma,' " Osmond said. "I wanted to do stuff that's coming to Broadway, just been on Broadway or (is) currently on Broadway."

Tracks on the new CD are taken from such musicals as "Rent," and "Aida," as well as classics such as "Sweeney Todd," and "Guys & Dolls."

There's even a nod to Osmond's failed first attempt at serious theater.

" 'Give My Regards to Broadway' was my self-indulging song," Osmond said. "The record company was a little hesitant in having me put that on there."

And for good reason. The song is from the George M. Cohan musical "Little Johnny Jones," which Osmond opened in 1982. The media tore Osmond's performance to shreds in the tabloids. After opening night the musical closed for good.

But he had found a home on Broadway, regardless.

"I knew I'd be back," Osmond said. "Definitely."

The CD, an homage of sorts to his Broadway background, has had some critical acclaim.

The magazine Time Out New York said Osmond "convincingly delivers lyrics that express tenderness, conflict and the triumph of the misunderstood -- the kind of lyrics only Broadway tunes can get away with these days."

But Osmond recognizes that the audience expects to hear vintage Osmond as well.

"I hate going to a concert and hearing nothing that's familiar," Osmond said. "I decided I've got to do 'Puppy Love,' I've got to do 'Soldier of Love' and 'Go Away Little Girl,' all these oldies."

Keeping it "fresh"

That's what makes the show so much fun, he said, for him and the audience.

Osmond tones down the concert midway through for an unplugged and question-and-answer segment. He reminisces with the audience about his career, his family and life in general.

"You never really know what is going to happen at that point (in) time," Osmond said. "I love doing that because it keeps the show fresh."

Every once in a while a fan will surprise him. Recently a 14-year-old girl begged to be onstage with Osmond during a concert. It was her birthday and Osmond, always the gentleman, invited her to sit with him onstage and sing a duet.

He offered up a well-known classic from his days on the original 1970s "Donny and Marie Show." But the youngster was neither a little bit country nor a little bit rock 'n' roll. She was all Osmond-on-Broadway.

"It's really interesting to look out in the audience and see such a wide demographic because they each know me for certain things throughout the ages," Osmond said.

The younger audience members know him from Broadway's "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat" or his 1998 television talk show, "Donny and Marie."

He melds all that he has done into a short film that plays before the concert. It portrays his hits and the television shows and culminates with a 13-year-old Osmond singing "Go Away Little Girl" on the "The Andy Williams Show."

At that point Osmond appears onstage crooning along with the film.

"Nobody else has done a duet with themselves onstage," Osmond said. "It is weird. It is bizarre. There's such a history to fall back on. It's an all-encompassing journey, a 38-year journey."

Comeback trail

The path was not always clear, he said.

During the early '80s Osmond's celebrity status disappeared from the media's radar.

He made a comeback, of sorts, in 1987 when singer and songwriter Peter Gabriel invited Osmond to record "Soldier of Love" at Gabriel's recording studios in Bath, England. The result was a Top-30 hit in the U.K. The pop-ballad rose to No. 2 in the U.S. that same year.

But its rise was not based on Osmond's name appeal. In fact, radio stations were hesitant to announce they were playing a song by the goody-goody Osmond.

"It's not the coolest thing to do to play Donny Osmond music," Osmond said.

Stations were inundated with requests for the song from the unknown artist.

"I was the mystery artist," Osmond said. "They flew me in to say who I was and it just exploded from that point on. Radio stations across the country started doing the same thing."

His name worked against him, but then the nostalgia and a little bit of respect from the public brought him out of obscurity.

"That's the thing that time can do," he said.

As for the future, Osmond has a few interests. He recently shot a pilot as host for "The $100,000 Pyramid." The future of the show is still in negotiations with the show's executive producers, who are shopping the pilot to networks.

"I don't know if I'm going back into TV," Osmond said. "It's there, though."

He nearly threw in the towel on his singing career for a wilder ride. Osmond is an avid race fan and somewhat accomplished driver.

In 1991 he had two race cars, a pit crew and sponsorships from companies to support his hobby. He was ready to sign a contract to race professionally.

"I decided singing was it for me, though," Osmond said.

He continues to race in his spare time, although it appears he made the right choice in '91. Last March he flipped his car on the first turn at the Celebrity Grand Prix races in Long Beach, Calif.

"They named the first turn after me," Osmond said.

Las Vegas, he hopes, will play an important role in his future as well.

"I want to come back there, possibly permanently," Osmond said. "It would be a nice home again."