BOTH have had long and successful solo careers, but there’s something special about Donny and Marie Osmond working together again, writes Fiona Shepherd
She was a little bit country. And he was a little bit rock’n’roll. Back in the late 1970s, the catchy refrain from the Donny & Marie TV show became some kind of holy mantra to this young kid from Scotland who had just missed out on Osmonds mania but was now glued to every episode of Donny and Marie Osmond’s variety show. And I can’t have been the only one.
Now Donny & Marie are back in our lives again. With showbiz careers spanning the past five decades, they’ve never really been away, but the particular partnership of teen dreamboat Donny and his cute kid sister Marie has been revived for the first time in 28 years with a successful Las Vegas show – “the show that won’t die,” according to Donny. Having extended its initial run to five years and counting, the duo are now touring a deluxe version in the UK.
“You’ve got to give the audience a bit of everything they want and more. When they walk out of that place they’ve got to be able to say, ‘That was well worth the price of admission and then some’,” says Donny.
“I think we’re going to lower in the kitchen sink at the very end,” quips Marie.
This will be the first time they have visited the country as a double act – though they may not thank you for that description. Both are showbusiness veterans – with as keen an eye on the business as on the show – and are careful to maintain their separate identities.
“To some people, Donny and Marie are joined at the hip,” says Donny. “But in reality it’s two solo careers coming together. In a way, it’s like three separate careers – mine, Marie’s and together – and that’s the way the show is laid out.”
“We definitely have a chemistry – it’s kind of like an acid peel,” adds Marie. “I mean, how would you like to work with your brother every day?”
I really wouldn’t, thanks all the same. But my brother can’t sing. “Donny can’t sing either!” she hoots.
Donny is not actually around to hear such affectionate words from his little sister. True to his description of their working relationship, the siblings conduct separate interviews. Donny is professional, polite, precise and not even a little bit rock’n’roll; Marie is irreverent, playful and more than a little bit country.
“Oh yes, there’s a lot more,” she says. “Other people play different musical instruments, I do different vocal styles. I’ve been working 15, 16 years now to sing legit opera. Over five decades you can’t fake it, you have to figure out how to actually perform.”
In the 1990s, Marie enjoyed successful Broadway runs playing the lead roles in The King & I and The Sound Of Music and is currently working on an album featuring Broadway tunes and opera pieces.
“I’ll be one of those ladies that when their kids are grown up and I’m a grandma I’ll be playing the crazy, silly roles,” she reckons. “When I did The King & I on Broadway, they said I brought humour into the role of Anna, because she was such a schoolma’am. How can you fall in love with that? Also with The Sound Of Music I didn’t make Maria just boring and sweet – she’s supposed to be a flibbertigibbet, a will-o-the-wisp, a clown.”
Although her brother has maintained by far the higher profile in the UK since the 1970s, Marie is the one with numerous irons in the fire back home in California. She hosts a talk show in Los Angeles during the day, before commuting to Vegas at night, has a successful sideline in handcrafts and dollmaking and is the co-founder of the Children’s Miracle Network charity.
Both siblings have had their challenges. For Donny, this has involved overcoming social phobia and stage fright reaching right back to his childhood, as well as having to make peace with his former teen idol status.
“It’s a very difficult transition to make that hurdle from a teenybopper star to an adult entertainer. It takes a lot of effort and fortitude to do that,” he says, presumably not referring to that sort of adult entertainment. “When you see a show like the one we’re putting on in the UK, there’s so many different styles and incarnations of music and it’s a very strenuous show but it’s well worth it because people realise there was more than just Puppy Love.”
At the same time, he is mindful of precious fan memories and doesn’t want to trash his pop past, so he’s learned to love those songs again. “I went through a time in my life I didn’t really like them because it was the very thing that was keeping me in that teenybopper mould but as you’ll be able to see I treat it with a lot of respect. I sing ’em the way they should be sung.”
Marie’s career, meanwhile, has been fitted round the raising of her eight children, five of whom she adopted with her second husband. She has struggled with postnatal depression in the past but her home life hit the headlines again in 2010 with the suicide, aged 18, of her son Michael.
“It’s one of those things that I’m not quite ready to talk about,” she says. Instead, she has continued to plough herself into her numerous projects. “Work was my safe place at the time because when your world feels so out of control it was something that I could control and it was an opportunity to forget about my problems and bring joy to others. I was afraid if I didn’t I don’t know if I ever would have worked again. It was a safe way to find a reason to get up and go every day and that was the most important thing.”
Donny has five sons with Debra, his wife of 35 years, but they have shown no inclination to follow their father into the world of brotherly harmony. In fact, none of Donny’s and Marie’s offspring, nor their children’s children, has gone into showbiz.
Marie’s eldest son is a singer/songwriter – “and I wouldn’t say that if he wasn’t really good,” says his proud mum – but is intent on pursuing a career in international economics instead. It looks like record companies will have to look elsewhere to keep feeding the teenybop market.
“It’s the same old record over and over again - because you’re always going to have 13/14/15-year-old little girls loving that kind of stuff,” says Donny, the voice of experience. “It’s just different faces with different types of media outlets. I would have loved to have Twitter back in those days. We stayed as close as we could with the fans with the technology we had back then. But I’m hooked on Twitter. Social media nowadays is so important. It’s that personal touch you have to have. Be sure to say I’d love everybody to follow me @donnyosmond!”
And, as usual, even from her separate interview, sister Marie has a cheeky double act comeback: “Tweet me – I’m a lot funnier than Donny!”
• Donny & Marie play the SECC, Glasgow, tomorrow. www.donnyandmarie.com