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The return of Donny Osmond (again)

Story Highlights

• Donny Osmond has adjusted with times
• Once teen heartthrob, now singing standards
• Also a hit for turn in "Beauty and the Beast" on B'way
By Porter Anderson
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NEW YORK (CNN) -- The guy taking the stage tonight for a one-week run at Manhattan's Feinstein's room at the Lowes Regency is a grandfather.

Yes, that Donny Osmond.

"I've been playing catch-up all my life," the one-time teen idol says.

He's a father of five boys. He's a Broadway veteran of two major musicals. In fact, he says, the "Beauty and the Beast" producers have told him they'd like him to return and reprise his work as the villain Gaston in the run's final performances in July at the Lunt-Fontanne. ( See a gallery of images from Osmond's recent years of work )

"And I'm hitting 50 this year," he says with a laugh. "I have no qualms about it whatever."

The new CD that Universal's Decca label releases today in the United States went into music stores in Europe about a month ago. Its sales there were gold within a single week. ( Watch Osmond's conversation with CNN's Brooke Anderson Video )

So is that CD, "Love Songs of the '70s," a comeback or a reset?

Any artist will tell you that from her or his perspective, there's no such thing as coming back. It's not that they go away, it's that the public looks elsewhere for a while.

"Look, that's the nature of the game, I guess," Osmond says.

"Those were the cards I was dealt. When you start out as a little teeny-bopper, people have a tendency to label you.

"But you know what? I enjoy surprising people. I enjoy taking a left when they think I'm going to turn right. The role in 'Beauty and the Beast' -- Donny Osmond playing a bad guy?"

Reasoned and personable, Osmond is admirably candid in talking of a period in young adulthood when he made the mistake of apologizing for the populist appeal of his work in such settings as "The Andy Williams Show" and the four-year "Donny and Marie" show on ABC.

The long march

As times, styles and music changed, this recording artist, at age 21with 16 albums to his name, was an early prisoner, as he puts it, to his image. The break in his discography makes it clear: From 1978 to 1989, nada.

"But I am not a one-trick pony," he says. "We see a lot of that nowadays in artists who specialize in one thing."

The same beginnings that locked him into one genre's image, he says, now give him the range he's deploying today.

"I was in the commissary at NBC last week in L.A. when I was there doing the Leno show," he says. "And on the wall were pictures of Groucho Marx, Bob Hope, Milton Berle, Danny Thomas and Abbott and Costello. And I turned to my manager and said, 'Abbott and Costello are the only guys on that wall I haven't worked with.' "

The Osmonds' peak coincided with the variety-show craze, which once had as strong a grip on TV-entertainment culture as reality and competition shows have today. Performers sang, danced, acted, whatever it took.

"So for me, change is natural. My last album ('What I Meant To Say,' 2004) was completely original material. The one before that, I did some covers ('Somewhere in Time,' 2002). The one before that was all Broadway songs ('This is the Moment,' 2001). Change is what I do."

And one way to call attention to your self-reinventions is to ground fans in what they connect you to in earlier days.

In the new CD of '70s music, he brings most of the range of the kid-Donny voice into a mature resonance to turn out new explorations of Johnny Nash's "I Can See Clearly Now," the Bee Gees' "How Deep Is Your Love," Ace's "How Long" and Albert Hammond and Carole Bayer Sager's "When I Need You," the latter a hit for Leo Sayer.

And what he'll do this summer, he says, is arena shows in the United Kingdom where "Osmondmania" once approached the ardor shown for the Beatles.

"But first, at the end of June, I'm doing a show in Wales at a place called Merthyr. And I chose it because a lot of my ancestors came from there. The show is called 'Donny Comes Home,' and so far there are about 10,000 seats sold. It's going to be amazing, set in front of a castle."

His enthusiasm yanks him into gleeful plans for the show and for as many as 12 other major-venue bookings to follow. He's clearly still in love with performance.

"I'm going to shower it with production. Five huge screens. Make anything happen we want. We're taping the whole thing in high-def. And when I sing 'Oh, I hear laughter in the rain' " -- he sings it to demonstrate -- "it's going to rain on stage. That will be amazing."

And in an intimate supper club like Feinstein's tonight in New York? "Well, there, I just sit on somebody's lap and sing."


Universal releases Donny Osmond's new CD today on its Decca label. It went gold in a week in the UK.



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