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  Donny Osmond and His Amazing Technicolor Career
By Pam Grady

  Few can boast the career Donny Osmond has had. At the tender age of five, he made his TV singing debut, appearing with the Osmond Brothers on the Andy Williams Show. By six, he was a series regular. By the late 1960s, positioned as the white soul brothers of the Jackson 5, the Osmonds and solo Donny became chart-toppers with such songs as "One Bad Apple," "Yo Yo," and "Puppy Love." Donny became the cover boy dreamboat of 16, Tiger Beat, and other fan magazines, the coverage so exhaustive that his young fans even knew the color of his socks (purple). At 18, along with his 16-year-old sister Marie, Donny topped off his young career with a hit musical-comedy variety hour, The Donny and Marie Show.

In his 20s, Donny's career faltered, but his singing career took off again at age 30 with the hit song "Soldier of Love." In 1992, Donny accepted what he thought was a limited engagement to play the title role in a production of the Andrew Lloyd Webber-Tim Rice musical Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. He continued in the role for six years. Successful once again with Donny and Marie, the talk show he hosts with his sister, Donny was coaxed back into Joseph's variegated robe once again for the video and DVD release of the production. Donny recently took a break from his busy schedule to chat with Reel about his own amazing career.

Q: How did you get involved with Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat in the first place? I know you performed it on stage for a while before doing the video. But how did you originally become involved?

Donny Osmond: It was a typical audition in New York and I wasn't sure if this was the right property for me, because I wanted something that was a little bit more of a stretch, having come off a fiasco on Broadway 10 years prior.

Q: Which was?

DO: That was a show called Little Johnny Jones. We opened and closed the same night. That can hurt, you know. So I thought, the next time I get on the musical theater stage, I want to make sure that it's the right project. I read the first couple of pages [of Joseph] and this 18-year-old boy, long hair, big smile, donned in white, coming out of the clouds — I thought, "Yeah right, that is exactly what I need to do. Give me an insulin shot now." But I kept reading the script and I realized an actor's responsibility is to take somebody on a journey. If I can be believable at the end of this show as a 40-year-old man in charge of Egypt, the most powerful man next to the Pharaoh, and still be believable at the beginning as a teenager, that is a stretch. I said, "Let's try it for a short period of time." I think it was around a six-month contract, and six years later I said, "Okay, this is enough."

Q: How many performances did you do of the show altogether?

DO: Around 2,000.

Q: That is a lot.

DO: Yes.

Q: Your story somewhat parallels Joseph in a way because he was a favorite son with a lot of brothers, and while your parents may not have played favorites, you had a lot of brothers and you were definitely — shall we say? — the family star. Were there echoes of any sibling rivalry in your own family in that part?

  DO: Well you know, Joseph's brother sold him into Egypt. My brothers didn't sell me into Los Angeles. I don't really want to draw too many parallels, but it is quite uncanny how, at least, the age is parallel. I was around 20 when my career kind of took a dive after the Donny and Marie Show ended, and I really couldn't even get arrested. That's around the time that Joseph was sold into Egypt. I was around 31, 32 when "Soldier of Love" became a hit and my whole recording career took off and that was about the same time Joseph became in charge of Egypt. So there are parallels in all the brothers and everything. But for me to equate my life with Joseph, I don't think so.

Q: What does Joseph's story mean to you?

DO: Well, it's a very entertaining story. That's the beauty of the way Tim [Rice] and Andrew [Lloyd Webber] wrote this show. It has a great moral to it. Everybody can relate to it. Almost everybody has got a sibling; sibling rivalries happen. It is a story about forgiveness. It is also a story about taking power a little too far, as Joseph realizes. But then again, it's very light family entertainment. As soon as it starts to take itself too seriously, Tim and Andrew throw comedy into it. So, there is something in it for everybody. A great moral story or it can just be eye candy.

Q: In both this and also in Jesus Christ Superstar, biblical figures are portrayed as celebrities, which is an unusual approach. How do you feel about that?

DO: Well, define what a celebrity is. Is it a person that is put on a pedestal and looked up to? Is it someone not just to be entertained by, but is a person that you use or allow to tell a story? Sometimes I think the term "celebrity" is blown out of proportion. But if it is a person that can tell a story or teach a principle or guide you through a series of emotions, through a journey, then I don't see anything wrong with it. Christ himself, if you want to say it, the way he is portrayed in Jesus Christ Superstar is a celebrity, but you have to define what celebrity means. I mean, it could run the gamut. Ghandi can be considered a celebrity. Buddha can be considered a celebrity. We are getting quite philosophical here. It is kind of a loaded question.

Q: What is your impression of Andrew Lloyd Webber?

DO: I think he is a genius. He is the most successful composer of our time. Commercially, nobody can touch him.

Q: What was he like to work with?

DO: Andrew is — I wasn't able to get extremely close to him. I know him and I have met him and I have talked with him several times. He invited me over to his flat in England and I consider him a friend, but I don't know him on a very personal level. But the little bit that I do know him — it is very difficult to have a long conversation with him because his mind is going so fast and he is analyzing things all the time. He came over to the filming of Joseph. I mean, I had a great time with him, especially at his flat. We just talked and talked and talked but you really had to keep up with him.

Q: In this video, you worked with one of the most respected actors of our time, Richard Attenborough. You also worked with one of the most famous divas of our time, Joan Collins.

DO: [Laughs] And boy she uses that word well.

  Q: What was it like to work with the two of them?

DO: Well, one extreme to another. First of all, Richard Attenborough is story after story. What a nice man. Just the most gentle, kind person. And I would do that — I've done that last scene when Joseph and Jacob meet 2,000 times, and you draw upon every single kind of emotion to make that real. I thought I had depleted my bucket of emotions until I started acting opposite Sir Richard Attenborough. He just brings a whole new perspective to the scene.

And now there is Joan. She brings a whole other perspective to the scene. I have worked with Joan before. I did a movie of the week with her years ago called The Wild Women of Chastity Gulch, of all titles. She ran this house of ill repute and I was this Confederate soldier that was the only man in town. I was wounded and I was stuck in this town full of women. She was the diva of the town. But she knows how to work it. When we saw each other again, I reminded her of it and she said, "Oh yes, I would like to forget about that movie." But she walks in and we do this scene and the director told her exactly how to take my jacket off, take my clothes off, the whole bit and she — I don't know if she did this on purpose, but she kept blowing the scene. [Laughs] And I had to keep doing it over and over and over. But she is a diva and she knows how to work it.

Q: Recently a lot has come out about the stage fright that you suffer from, and have apparently suffered from for quite some time. How does that work when you are trying to go up and sing live in front of people or when you're doing something like Joseph where you actually have to concentrate not just on the singing, but also on the acting?

DO: It takes a lot of energy. I hid it. Nobody knew. Nobody had any idea until years after. It takes a lot of energy out of you. You just have to force yourself to do it. I did a piece for 48 Hours and I made a statement on that. I remember one specific time in Minneapolis where, if I had a choice of walking on stage or dying, I would have chosen death. It was that bad. Thank goodness I had a great cast around me. They didn't even really know, but they knew something was wrong. But I forced myself through that, six years of it with Joseph. I suffered since I was 11 from stuff like this, and so many people suffer from some sort of anxiety. It is a massive problem and you would be surprised how many celebrities have come up to me since that 48 Hours piece, saying, "Please don't tell anybody, but I want you to know I suffer from it too." People you wouldn't even imagine — but it comes from our society of demanding perfectionism. But it is more so from the individual himself demanding perfection. But you can never attain perfection.

Q: Have you more or less overcome it now?

DO: No, I am dying right now. [Laughs]

Q: As we speak.

 
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