ABOUT 15 YEARS AGO, Marie Osmond was "a little bit country" and her brother, Donny, was "a little bit rock 'n' roll."

These days, Donny is rockin' his way through a hugely successful production of "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat."And Marie?

Well, the press packet I just received a few weeks ago had one 8-by-10-inch glossy photograph of Marie posing with a guitar. But, in this case, she's not even a little bit country.

Unless the country is Austria.

Marie is now playing Maria . . . Maria Von Trapp, the central figure in one of the most popular stage plays and movies of all time - "The Sound of Music." Local theatergoers (at least those lucky enough to have Theater League of Utah tickets) can catch it Tuesday through next Sunday at the Capitol Theatre. See related box accompanying this story for details.

For a little more than a year, Marie Osmond has been touring the United States and Canada in a critically and publicly acclaimed production of the Rodgers & Hammerstein classic. And now, she's bringing it back to her home state of Utah.

"I'm coming home . . . boy, howdy - for a week! That's going to be strange. I've been on the road for more than a year, and it'll seem strange to be home for a week," Marie said during a telephone interview from Portland, Ore., where the show was playing at that city's Civic Auditorium.

Not that Marie will have a lot of extra time on her hands to run around visiting old friends and relatives.

Living out of a suitcase is nothing new for the only daughter of George and Olive Osmond. As a major country-western star in her own right and, before that, touring with the Osmond family, she's spent a good deal of her life on the road doing one-night stands.

"But this is quite a bit different," she said. "Actually this is a little bit nicer because we're in cities for a week at a time. Even though our days are pretty structured, it's still nice to sit somewhere for a week."

The producers (Pace Theatrical Group) and representatives of the Rodgers & Hammerstein estate approached Osmond with the project.

"They asked if I'd be interested in playing Maria. The more I thought about it, I felt it would be an interesting idea - not to make Maria `cute,' but an interesting character.

"Then, when I read the stage version, which I had never read before, I fell in love with her. I thought she was funnier, maybe even a little feistier.

"I also liked the subtle differences in the stage version vs. the movie version, which I had seen," she said.

Osmond noted that one difference in the two versions is that Captain Von Trapp and his fiance, Elsa Schraeder, split up over political views and not because of Maria, "which I think is wonderful."

"I also think the Nazi threat is much stronger in the stage version and there are some songs that aren't in the movie version, as well."

While "The Sound of Music" marks Marie's first move into a big Broadway musical, brother Donny has done it before - first with the ill-fated "Little Johnny Jones," which got good reviews in its pre-Broadway trial runs but was sunk quickly by the hard-nosed New York critics. His "Joseph" has fared considerably better, racking up huge grosses and sold-out crowds not only in Toronto, but in Chicago and Minneapolis.

Did Marie seek any advice from Donny on how to approach this new endeavor?

"Well, `Joseph' is a lot different from `The Sound of Music.' That's entirely sung-through and this has more acting. But really, I asked him `How hard is it?' and he just said, `HA! It's HARD!' . . . and you know, it really is!

"But I think I'm in better shape right now than I was when I was 16. You just have to be. We've done over 420-something shows and I've only missed five, not because of my voice. It was more for food poisoning and things like that. It's amazing. It's like you become a well oiled machine."

Osmond is enjoying the bus-and-truck tour. While most cities have just one-week runs, a few have had longer engagements. The show played in San Francisco for one month.

Marie first agreed to do the show for six months. Then, when she extended her contract, she and the producers found there were so many cities that wanted to book the production that the only feasible way to accommodate them all was to limit all of the bookings to one-week runs. Talk on the street in Salt Lake City, and from what I've heard in the theater community, is that the Theater League could have booked the show for a month and still be completely sold out.

A cautionary note: The only seats left at this point are those with obstructed views - and even those may be depleted by the time this story appears in print. A check with the ArtTix box office on Feb. 13 revealed that the show is nearly sold out. If you haven't got your tickets at this point, it's probably too late.

Osmond has discovered that following in the footsteps of Mary Martin and Julie Andrews wasn't especially intimidating.

"Well, I'm sure that Julie Andrews was worried about following Mary Martin, but I think you have to go into it not trying to be them - just be yourself and be what you perceive the character to be, then I think you'll be fine. I think if you try to re-create what they already created, you're letting everybody down."

Osmond said the audiences on her cross-country tour have been incredible, with lots of sell-outs. The critics have been nice, too, she added.

Daryl H. Miller of the Los Angeles Daily News said: "Osmond's vocally assured performance at the Pantages Theatre will quiet a few of her critics' snickers while delighting her fans." He added that she might not win any acting awards and seemed out of her league in the intensely dramatic scenes, but still "she's spunky and effervescent. And when she sings, she conveys the emotion she can't muster in the dialogue scenes. Her voice buzzes with electricity, and she sensitively shapes and colors each musical phrase."

A Los Angeles Times reviewer said Osmond "sings well, as does the entire cast. She has a clear, full voice that is mature and restrained, a surprise for anyone who has studiously avoided her since the days of `The Donny and Marie Show.' "

"I've been extremely pleased (with the critical response)," Osmond said. "I think the show has definitely gotten better since we first started. I think it took me about four months to really settle in . . . to understand the difference between `theater' and `concerts.' It's so different. You don't break through that fourth wall.

"Also, one of the things I really wanted to do with `The Sound of Music,' was to challenge myself. I learned a completely different way of singing. I didn't want to bring country music and Marie Osmond into Rodgers and Hammerstein, so when you come to the show you'll hear a very different sound.

"As a matter of fact, when Donny saw the show in Chicago he thought I was singing to tape! It's like finding a whole other voice for yourself. It's really been fun," she said.

Marie's 11-year-old son, Stephen Blosil is playing Kurt.

"He has performed before, things like movies-of-the-week and concert performances, so he has a good stage presence. He worked with a coach at Brigham Young University on his singing, and he wanted to audition for the show," noted Osmond, who had rave remarks for Stephen's voice coach. "Matt Bean - he's wonderful."

"Then Stephen went to New York and he nailed it. He got the part. Everyone had to audition. It's a hard show, and the Rodgers & Hammerstein office was very particular."

Oscar Hammerstein's son, James, is the show's director.

"This is his national tour and, even if you've seen `The Sound of Music' before, trust me, you've never seen it this way. It's amazing. It takes five semi-trucks just to haul the scenery around.

"Hammerstein went in and researched his father's papers and found dialogue that was missing and things like that, so you'll hear some different verbage. Not a lot, but a few things that I think are interesting."

"It's a beautiful show, and the cast is phenomenal. I'm going to miss it. They're wonderful people and they've become my family."

After the U.S. tour ends in May, there's a possibility that Marie will then take the show to Japan or Europe. She also has a new single recording out, "What Kind of Man Walks on a Woman" and she may do a brief concert tour to promote this.

Then she has her annual commitment to the Children's Miracle Network Telethon and her line of dolls on the QVC home-shopping channel.

Mentioning her dolls, Osmond said "That's my `golf game.' That's my therapy."

How about another Broadway show tour?

"If the right thing came along, it would be a lot of fun," she said.

As a working mother with four children, the subject of role models came up.

While she was growing up in the music and entertainment industry, Marie noted she "saw people destroying their careers with substance abuse. Some of them even took their own lives. I've seen just about everything you can imagine and probably then some, and when you see all of these things happening, you learn to make choices.

"In the 1990s, it's really kind of interesting, because now I'm considered relatively hip because I don't do drugs and I take care of my body and I exercise and I eat right - all those things they're telling us to do.

"Things are cyclical. That's why it's important to know who you are and to believe in the things that you choose to believe in. It's like people always ask me if it's hard being a Mormon. The only think that's hard about being a Mormon is if you don't believe it. Growing up in the world, you are faced with making choices.

"It's like the story of the little boy and his dad out flying a kite. The boy asked his dad to let go of the string, so the kite could go higher. The boy's father explained that that's not what would happen. But the boy insisted, so the dad let the string loose - and the kite fell to the ground. I liken that to religion, because I feel that a lot of the time the things we think are holding us down are really what's keeping us up. Religion, to me, is like the fourth leg on a chair. It keeps me balanced. It helps me make it through a crazy and insane world and put some sanity into it."

*****

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION

`Sound of Music' tickets are scarce

Performances of "The Sound of Music," being presented by the Theater League of Utah at the Capitol Theatre, 50 W. 200 South, will be at 8 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, Feb. 21-25, with matinees at 2 p.m. on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, Feb. 24-26. Admission ranges from $25 to $40, except for weekend evenings, when the range is $30 to $42.50. To check on availablity of seating (virtually nil at this point), call ArtTix at 355-2787.