The Reinvention of Donny Osmond
Atlantic City Weekly
by David J. Spatz
August 24, 2011
Not many people can open and close a Broadway show in one night and call it a good career move.
Then again, not many people are Donny Osmond.
Separated from that humiliating moment by nearly 30 years, Osmond looks back at the 1982 failure of the musical Little Johnny Jones and credits it with turning his career — and his life — around. “Tragedy plus time equals comedy,” Osmond says of his Broadway debut in a revival of the
1904 George M. Cohan show. “It wasn’t good at the time, of course. But I can look back now and say that fateful night ... was the very night that began the process of reinventing myself, so I’m grateful.”
As if to prove he harbors no resentment toward the show — which originally introduced songs like “Give My Regards to Broadway” and “The Yankee Doodle Boy” — Osmond plans to include songs from the musical in the innovative, interactive and technology-driven program he’s bringing to the Borgata in Atlantic City on Saturday, Aug. 27.
He’s even going to read aloud some of the Broadway show’s more scathing reviews, which have been tucked away in his basement and which he’s never read.
Naturally, Osmond wasn’t particularly overjoyed when his Broadway debut was a monumental flop. Words like “devastating” and “horrible” pepper his reminiscence of the moment during an early-morning phone call from his home in Provo, Utah.
“I just hated being me,” he says. “I grew a beard, I wanted to change my identity. All kinds of stuff. There was the witness protection program, [I wanted them to] please put me in it.”
Between the failure of the show, his squeaky-clean Boy Scout image, his devout Mormon beliefs and that fact that he was, well, he was Donny Osmond, something had to give.
When he finally came to his senses after such a catastrophic moment in the business, Osmond knew it was time for a career and an attitude adjustment. “[The show] was the match that lit the fire underneath me to say, ‘I’ve gotta do something if I’m gonna survive in show business, because this ain’t working,’” he recalls.
“And that began the reinvention of Donny Osmond.”
Change doesn’t happen overnight. It took seven years, but in 1989, Osmond had a number two hit song with “Solder of Love” and followed it up with the Top 20 hit “Sacred Emotion.” Many show-business observers regard Osmond’s return to popularity as the definitive comeback of the 1980s.
Developing a good sense of humor — especially about himself — has been another key to Osmond’s survival during a career that’s spanned 50 of his 53 years. That’s why he had no qualms about appearing in the “Weird Al” Yankovic video “White & Nerdy,” a parody of rapper Chamillionaire’s 2005 song “Ridin’.”
“Self-deprecation is a very important thing, especially when your name is Donny Osmond,” he says with a big laugh. “There’s a lot of material to poke fun at, and I think people can appreciate the fact that I [poke fun at myself].”
Osmond, who’s spent the better part of the last four years performing with his sister Marie at the Flamingo Hotel in Las Vegas, says his first solo tour in four years is a radical departure from the type of show people are accustomed to from him.
Although the show will have a structured and rehearsed beginning and ending, just about everything in between will be dictated by the audience through a question-and-answer session, he explains.
If somebody asks him to perform a song from the past, the music will instantly pop up on his three musicians’ iPads, and he’ll perform the number. If someone else asks him about the time when he and Marie did a Wizard of Oz sketch with the late Lucille Ball on the old Donny and Marie TV variety show, that clip will immediately play on a screen behind Osmond.
And you can bet there’ll be at least one request for some Dancing With the Stars footage from the guy who won the season nine competition. “We have the technology now to be able to call it up immediately. The system we’ve put together for this show is so cool. If someone wants to hear a song and it happens to be in the hundreds and hundreds of assets I’ll have in computer system, then boom — we’ll just go and do it.”
After the tour, Osmond and his sister will return to Las Vegas to continue their residency gig at the Flamingo, which was only supposed to be a six-week run. “We didn’t know if we could fill the room for six weeks,” he says. “It’s turned into a four-year contract.”
Casual conversations with the stars. Watch the Emmy-winning Curtain Call with David Spatz, Saturdays at 6pm on WMGM-TV NBC40.