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The secret to Donny Osmond’s success

In his dressing room, Donny Osmond, at 52 with youthful if not teen features, is a relaxed man who converses seriously and likes to get into the technical aspects of his craft. He’s explaining the surprising success he and his sister, Marie, have had with their reunion show that opened at the Flamingo in 2008. He answers like a man whose entire life has been spent reading his words in print: “It is a hard question to answer without sounding narcissistic. I don’t want to sound arrogant,” he says

That night -- granted, Saturday on Super Bowl weekend -- his manager mentions that more than 50 people have been turned away who sought last-minute tickets to the sold-out show. But even on the average weekend, sellouts have been common for “Donny & Marie” at the Flamingo. This when other shows and even venues are closing elsewhere on the Strip.

Among the people most surprised by this is Donny Osmond: “When we signed a six-month deal here, we thought, ‘Wow, six months in one spot.’ And now they are talking until the end of the world. I am totally surprised. What I thought would happen is that for six months it would be the hard-core Donny and Marie fans. And then it would do the bell curve. But it has done nothing but climb and climb and climb.”

And so Osmond risks sounding narcissistic and arrogant when asked to explain it. After hedging, he offers this modest answer: “I would like to hope, and I have been doing this a long time, and I say this by putting my producer’s hat on, I would like to hope that we offer entertainment.”

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Osmond shows an acute awareness of his traditional demographic appeal. “I see it every night with the guys. They come in dragged by their wives. The last thing in the world they want to do is see a ‘Donny & Marie’ show. And by the end of the night they are on their feet, having a great time.”

In the age of “American Idol” and dance competition shows (Donny recently won “Dancing With the Stars” and Marie was a contestant in an earlier season), the sort of song and dance mixed with light comedy the Osmonds excel at is not dismissed. Now the two are respected as entertainers who work until covered in sweat each night for the audience.

So to Osmond, even more shocking than ticket sales has been the response by critics: more glowing reviews than most anything the duo have done in their decades of show business. Joe Brown opened his review in the Las Vegas Sun:

“Is it too late to nominate Donny and Marie for President? OK, then. But what about president of Las Vegas?”)

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Osmond is tickled. “I am not just surprised. I am elated. My whole career it has been ‘Donny Osmond, the teeny-bopper.’ And again I don’t say this in an egotistical way, but it is the lighting, the choreography, the sets, well, it is a very expensive show, and I think it is a very entertaining show. I think people also realize we have paid our dues.”

During the show, the brother and sister engage in sibling rivalry, which remains intact. Donny enters holding his “Dancing With the Stars” trophy, to point out who won the competition and who did not. During her solo spot, Marie has the trophy moved offstage.

Yet as with all things Osmond, this is good-natured. Before reuniting for a finale set, each has a solo spot including signature songs but also well-known covers, all richly choreographed with a full band. Marie offers everything from opera to Eurythmics, while Donny performs a Stevie Wonder melody as well as the requisite “Puppy Love.” The women still scream for him. And although Donny may mock the diet company commercials, Marie Osmond, 50, is in good enough shape to hold her own with backup dancers decades younger. Both remain in excellent voice and harmonize with videos of their younger selves.

Donny Osmond is certainly prepared. “I do my own focus groups,” he says. “I am nuts about this stuff.”

Then perhaps there is an overriding reason that “Donny & Marie” are having their biggest success since the ‘70s, and it has nothing to do with any change in their act; they fit into Las Vegas now because people desire the escapist, lighthearted entertainment that makes an audience stand up feeling good at the end of the night. “Especially in these economic times, the entertainment business can flourish in certain pockets,” he says, agreeing with this theory. “People come to Vegas looking to party, and that is why Marie and I work so hard to give them a party. Timing is everything, and I think the timing for ‘Donny & Marie’ is really good right now.”

calendar@latimes.com


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