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Donny and His Amazing ‘Technicolor’ Experiences

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Though the boyish Donny Osmond is best known as the former ‘70s teen singing idol and current co-host with his sister Marie of the Emmy-nominated daytime talk series “Donny and Marie,” he is a seasoned musical theater veteran.

From 1992-98, Osmond, 42, toured in the Andrew Lloyd Webber-Tim Rice musical “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat,” performing the role of the biblical hero nearly 2,000 times.

“Joseph” premiered in 1968 as a 15-minute piece at a London school. Over the years, the composers expanded the musical fable to 90 minutes. On Wednesday, PBS’ “Great Performances” premieres a new film version starring Osmond; Sir Richard Attenborough as Joseph’s father, Jacob; Joan Collins as Potiphar’s evil wife; and Maria Friedman as the Narrator.

Osmond will also host the three-hour presentation, which includes “Joseph,” a preview from the upcoming “Jesus Christ Superstar” TV adaptation and a repeat of Lloyd Webber’s “Requiem.”

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During a break from “Donny and Marie,” Osmond talks about his often funny experiences playing “Joseph.”

Question: You were 34 when you started doing “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” on stage. When you filmed this version last summer you were nearly 42. Has your performance changed as you matured?

Answer: Well, when you are close to something like raising a child, you really don’t see the differences until you go away and come back. The difference is amazing over time.

But there is only so much you can stretch because Sir Andrew, as we lovingly call him, likes his stuff done a certain specific way. He has a group of people who make sure each production is done that way because he’s a very hands-on individual. So there isn’t a lot of room for stretching.

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When I started the role in 1992, I had to sing differently [from the pop style]. I had to articulate differently. You can’t sing pop licks in a musical like this. I had a wonderful conductor who taught me the ropes [of Broadway-style singing]. I finally got it after two years.

Q: Before you started your stage stint as Joseph, had you previously seen any incarnations of the musical?

A: I saw my younger brother Jimmy. He did it in a very small theater, a very small production. I was familiar with the music, but I didn’t know much about the show.

Q: Did you feel, though, that “Joseph” would typecast you?

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A: I have to be honest with you, I thought at first: “I don’t want to do this.” Here is this little teenage kid donned in long hair and white. But then I continued reading, and after finishing it, I realized I had to be convincing not only as a teenager but as a 40-year-old man in charge of Egypt. I said if I can be convincing in those two extremes, that would be a stretch. I was smart enough to know that immediately people could accept me in that role when they first see me, but then you take them on the journey.

Q: After doing it on stage for nearly six years, didn’t you get bored?

A: I got very tired of the show after doing it for so long. I never tired of the music, but it is the mundane schedule of getting up for eight shows a week, doing the same thing and not being able to vary it much.

Q: Well, I imagine you would have had a pretty strict workout regime since your costume primarily consists of a loincloth.

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A: I got to tell you, I remember the first wardrobe fitting. I walk in and they hand me this little piece of material and I said: “OK. Where is the rest of it?” I put this thing on and I am so embarrassed. I said, no way am I going out there in front of thousands of people wearing a piece of cloth. So comes time for opening and I am nervous as I can be. The press is out there and I am oblivious to the fact that I am not wearing anything because I am concentrating on the show.

Two weeks into the run--this is in Toronto--I am doing this little dance going into the intermission and the [actress playing the] Narrator at the time, looked over at me and she whispers, “What’s the matter?” I am flushed red. I look at her and say, “I’m naked up here!” Finally, after I relaxed into the role, I realized how little I had on, on stage.

Q: Any funny memories from being on the road that long?

A: We came up with a lot of stuff to keep from getting bored. The entire cast said, “We are going to get that loincloth off of you one of these days.” There is a scene where Mrs. Potiphar was chasing me around her bed. She falls down on the bed and I fall on top of her. Well, she was chasing me around and everybody was trying to grab this loincloth. It’s only held on by four little hooks. They finally got it in, of all places, Salt Lake City! The place just howled. The show came to a screeching halt. The conductor just stopped the orchestra and the orchestra stood up out of the pit to look. I just had to put it back on and continue.

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Q: How different was filming the show versus the stage experience?

A: It was rigorous. It was restaged differently, and I am not that familiar with film. My background is TV.

Q: But you and Marie did that movie “Goin’ Coconuts” in 1978.

A: That we would like to leave off the annals of history. We don’t consider that a film.

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But I am not that familiar with the filming process. We had six cameras rolling at the same time. As far as the schedule was concerned, we just shot and shot until we were dead tired. We did it in six weeks.

Q: And this time around, Joan Collins is playing Mrs. Potiphar.

A: Here again I don’t want to consider it a film, but I did a movie of the week with her, it was called “The Wild Women of Chastity Gulch” [in 1982].

Over the weekend, I am thumbing through the stations and on TNN, there I am on “The Wild Women of Chastity Gulch.” My kids look at me and say, “Dad, that’s horrible.” She was the head of the brothel and I was a Confederate soldier and the only guy in this town full of women.

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But, boy, I tell you, she walked [on the set of “Joseph”], and you talk about a diva. And she knows how to work it. When we were rehearsing our scenes, she kept blowing them. She was supposed to take my clothes off and she kept doing it wrong. And I am wondering if she kept blowing it so she could keep doing the scene over and over. She was blowing in my ear and rubbing my chest and taking my clothes off and I thought, “I’m glad my wife isn’t watching this!”

It’s kind of cute the way it was shot. The way they edited it is very innocent because kids are going to be watching. It’s a family show.

* “Great Performances: Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” will be shown Wednesday at 8 p.m. on KCET and KVCR. It is also available on VHS and DVD from Universal Home Video.

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“I realized I had to be convincing not only as a teenager but as a 40-year-old man in charge of Egypt. I said if I can be convincing in those two extremes, that would be a stretch.”

DONNY OSMOND, of his ‘Joseph’ role


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