Every branch of show business has its own special pains, but to outsiders the strains of working in a long-run musical seem particularly burdensome. How can a person remain sane (and perky) while playing and singing and dancing and going through exactly the same routines night after week after month after year?
"It's tough," admits Donny Osmond, sitting on a beach in Wilmette, Ill., letting his daytime thoughts wander onto a laptop computer. This is a person who, six days a week, puts on a coat of many colors and, like millions of other Americans, goes to work.The difference, as Osmond is the first to admit, is that in his case, hundreds of onlookers judge his every move.
On some 900 recent nights - including most of the past year at the Chicago Theatre - Osmond has had to whirl his delicately colored features and tiny tawny torso for 2 hours and 5 minutes through an intricate retelling - in song, dance, tumbling, clowning and haute Vegas splendor - of an Old Testament story that has become "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat."
"You've gotta keep it fresh, and it's not easy," Osmond said during an interview that began at Walker Brothers Original Pancake House in Wilmette and shifted to the town's Gilson Park Beach.
It's easy to retreat, "but you can't close the doors and withdraw," Osmond said. "Look what happened to Michael (Jackson) when he isolated himself."
Osmond has tried to build a normal life, not so much for himself, he said, but so he can have a normal wife and normal kids. "I was getting on a plane by myself when I was 5," he said, "but that's not how most people are raised. Most people wake up in the same bedroom every morning. They see other family members every day. Not many kids have their own TV show or do concert tours."
Osmond did, with his sister, Marie, and with other Osmond family members who hit so many airports in travels across the country in the '60s and '70s, that Osmond recalled waking up one morning in a hotel room and having no memory of where he was, or even of having checked in the previous night.
It scared him. "I lay in bed and tried to think back. Finally, I had to open the curtains and look down at the marquee to remember coming into the hotel. I had to look at a phone book to find out what city I was in."
For Osmond, long runs are in a sense better than the frenzy of one-nighters because they have given him a chance to savor family life.
"At times, it has been tough. I got married at 20. I was a father at 21. Normal life began, but I didn't know how to deal with it. I never went to school. In fact, I graduated from a school in Chicago," referring to his alma mater, Hyde Park's American School of Correspondence. He had no idea how to relate to a wife, to kids or, indeed, to other males of his age.
"I don't want to make it sound weird," he said, "but I never had buddies when I was a teenager. My whole career had been nothing but appealing to, you know, young girls." When he switched to rock 'n' roll, and later to "Joseph," it took a lot of personal fine-tuning to build relationships on more than his ability to stir up mating frenzy in like-aged females.
Much of his off time he spends at home, in a two-story brick house with black and white shutters on a quiet street about 40 minutes north of the Loop. Because he leaves for work about 5:45 p.m., he gets up early in the morning, or he wouldn't see his children before they go to school.
Osmond's four sons, ranging in age from 3 to 15, have "done all the normal things: soccer, football, scouting, children's theater," he said. "We spent a weekend in Galena, and on the way back we stopped in Belvidere for a tour of the Chrysler plant. At the Brookfield Zoo, we had our own cart with a guide to show us around, though every time the Zebra Train went by, the driver said, ` . . . and here we have Donny Osmond.' "
"Right now, we're facing a difficult challenge, what to do next year after `Joseph' closes in Chicago," Osmond said. "We had planned to stay on here, to have the kids continue (school). But it's been difficult for them because of who I am. Every time one of them stands up in class, somebody goes, `Go, go, go, Joseph,' " parroting a song in his show.
Reversing directions, the family feeling now is for a base in Utah while Osmond, whose "Joseph" contract has been extended until 1997, does a run in Minneapolis. "I want my children to have a normal life, and to see an Osmond on the street in Utah is no big thing," he said, though it still is in Wilmette, where he answers all inquiries engagingly - and honestly.
"What are your plans for the weekend?" a teller at his local bank recently inquired when he stopped off to make a deposit. "What plans?" Osmond replied, "I'm doing five shows."