“Let’s get down to business, to de-feat the Hunnnnns …”
Donny Osmond had just met the young daughter of fans at his long-running Las Vegas residency at Harrah’s. The little girl, he told me, didn’t know who he was until he started singing the familiar opening line of “I’ll Make a Man out of You” from Disney’s animated 1998 classic, “Mulan.”
That little girl was delighted to hear the singing voice of the movie’s Captain Shang, but so was the grown-up currently on the phone with him who used to stand with her twin sister on their ancient dresser in Northwood pretending to be the stars of the upbeat and very ’70s variety show, “Donny and Marie” (I was always Donny). I may be an award-winning journalist, but DONNY FREAKING OSMOND was singing in my ear. And that will never not be cool.
The longtime star will bring his Vegas show — “the entire production” — to MGM National Harbor in Oxon Hill on Wednesday. “Not everyone can come to Las Vegas, so I’m bringing Las Vegas to you,” he said.
Osmond’s nationwide tour encompasses “everything I’ve done in six decades,” which includes his days of singing with his siblings on “The Andy Williams Show,” his “Puppy Love” teen idol period, the aforementioned show with his sister, his late-’80s comeback and now.
At first, the math didn’t make sense. How does this boyish 65-year-old have a six-decade career, and how have I been alive for most of it? Then I remembered that Osmond made his show business debut as a mere tot — “I’ve been doing this ever since I was 5 years old,” he told me — and that I am in my 50s. And somehow we sort of look the same age?
One of the things that’s consistently true about Donny Osmond is that he is always working and looks like he’s having fun, whether he’s gleefully mocking himself while dancing his heart out in “Weird Al” Yankovic’s 2006 “White And Nerdy” music video or doing a silly, fun and awesome thing, such as appearing as The Peacock in the first season of Fox’s “The Masked Singer.”
Appropriately, his debut performance on the reality competition show was singing “The Greatest Show” from “The Greatest Showman” soundtrack, because it was certainly that. I remember watching “The Masked Singer” live, in the living room of a winter holiday rental home in Annapolis in 2019, immediately knowing who The Peacock was. It couldn’t have been anyone else.
“I was the very first person the talent booker called. He was like, ‘This is a new show’ and started explaining everything to me, and I said, ‘Stop. I get the joke. I’m in,’” said Osmond, who flew back and forth between Los Angeles, where the series was taped, and Las Vegas, where he was doing five shows a week. He placed second in the overall competition, behind T-Pain and ahead of Gladys Knight. “It was crazy, absolutely crazy. I love it.”
That’s the attitude of a showman who’s all in. “You have no idea, when you throw it against the wall, if a thing is gonna work. We spent millions on the show in Vegas, which is a gamble, no pun intended,” he said. “You don’t know how the audience is going to react, so you surround yourself with the best in the business, the best lighting people, the best dancers, the best choreographers. I’m in the third year of my residency, and you can only imagine how that feels. Because it’s working.”
Keeping his lengthy career fresh has been no small feat. “There were times that I was like, ‘Is [success] ever going to happen again for me?’ Like reinventing myself with ‘Soldier Of Love,’” Osmond said, referencing the 1989 hit released to radio as being by a mystery singer because it was feared audiences wouldn’t listen if they knew it was him. “But it’s really just about getting onstage and performing, and seeing how it can affect people for the better. It’s pretty invigorating. When the curtain goes up, it’s all about the magic of show business, light and sound.”
Osmond is from the era of go-for-broke, leave-it-on-the-stage, breathlessly earnest performers who aren’t concerned about looking cool. They do it for the fans, and the fans show up. And, because of his appearance on current reality shows and his work in “Mulan,” that fan base has expanded, as with the child in Vegas.
“It’s kind of exciting that, because of technology, there’s another generation that can find an established artist,” said Osmond, who got permission from Disney to stage the “Mulan” stick fighting dance sequence during his tour. “They hear Captain Shang, and it turns the theater into a ‘Mulan’ experience. You can see them light up.”
Osmond himself lights up when I mention him singing “I’ll Make a Man out of You” live as former Fifth Harmony singer Normani performed it on “Dancing With the Stars,” which he’d won in Season 9. The moment when she hugged him after her triumphant finish legitimately made me tear up, because great entertainment reaches across time.
“Oh, yes! That was an amazing moment. She explained to me that this moment was like meeting Captain Shang,” Osmond said. “It’s one of the most important songs I ever did, along with ‘Puppy Love.’ It belongs to a certain generation.”
The subsequent generations of Osmonds are always on the mind of the father of five and grandfather of 14. “Garth Brooks said this: ‘I wish I would have spent a little more time caring about the most important things in my life, and that’s family,’” Osmond said, and he has taken that to heart. Just recently, he had a Fourth of July campout in tents with his grandkids, after whom he’s named the fruit trees in his orchard. “I’ve had an interesting vantage point from which to watch the megastars I’ve worked with — the mistakes and the good things, the hard work,” he said. “I’ve forfeited so many wonderful projects where I’ve said, ‘No. I have to spend time at home with my grandchildren, my children and my wife.’ You gotta balance it out.”
Speaking of generations, there’s a guy named Chris on the current season of ABC’s goofy-fun “Claim to Fame” — a show on which celebrity relatives have to guess each other’s famous family members — who not only looks suspiciously like Osmond’s son, musician Chris Osmond, but like every other Osmond ever.
“I know you’re not going to confirm that this is your kid, but is it?” I joked.
“I have no idea what you’re talking about. I plead the Fifth,” Osmond deadpanned. “But whoever that Chris kid is, he’s doing a great job.”
Spoken like a true showman.