Monday, 26 September 2016

INTERVIEW - Jimmy Osmond and his Tribute to Andy Williams

IT may be 7.30am Utah time when I call Jimmy Osmond but he sounds as fresh as a daisy when he answers the phone.
The 53-year-old who, alongside his older siblings, has wowed the world with a string of catchy pop songs over many decades tells me his days always start early so he can see his kids off to school.
And indeed during our chat he waves his brood off whilst checking they have the necessary school kit with them.
It is typical Jimmy, a family man above all else who tells me he tries to provide a “normal” upbringing for his four kids yet who himself had an anything but normal childhood thanks to the phenomenon that was and still is The Osmonds.
In fact this year is a special one for Jimmy because it marks his 50th in the business as he was just three years old when he made his performance debut on America’s Andy Williams Show.
His older siblings were already fixtures on the show, after having been spotted in the 1960s singing barbershop music as children. But Jimmy’s inclusion into the group assured the Osmond’s success and their elevation to teen music idols thanks to a mass of hit tunes across the world including the infamous Puppy Love and Long Haired Lover From Liverpool.
But as Jimmy tells me, their worldwide fame and success was all down to Andy Williams - who not only booked them to appear on his show where they were regulars for most of the 1960s but also enabled them to meet and work with some of the great names in the business - Elvis Presley and Frank and Nancy Sinatra to name but three.
Although Jimmy admits he was at first in awe of and a bit frightened of Andy - not surprising given his young age - he formed a bond with him that has seen Jimmy dedicate a live show to the great man which he has been performing and producing for a number of years.
And to celebrate his long standing relationship with Andy and his own 50 years in the business, Jimmy is bringing a new incarnation of the show - A Tribute to Andy Williams – Moon River and Me - to the UK.  
Packed with award-winning music, nostalgic footage and Jimmy’s own personal memories of Andy Williams, the 27 date nationwide tour begins this week and runs through until October 30.   
It features stops at the Churchill Theatre in Bromley on Monday, October 17 and then at the New Wimbledon Theatre a day later on Tuesday, October 18. And Jimmy tells me he can’t wait.
“I love Britain and I’m so excited to be back,” he says warmly. “I’ve never performed at Wimbledon before although I do know the area well - just don’t get me to play any tennis!
“I’m looking forward to it and entertaining the wonderful audiences there. It will be a nostalgic show,  a tapestry of experiences, something for all the family which is really important to me. 
“And of course it will be full of wonderful music and a tribute to Andy who became a really good friend.”
Jimmy, who will be joined on stage by The Moon River Band and special guest stars Charlie Green and Emily Penny, promises a set list complete with some of the chart-topping hits that made him and his brothers famous.
These will include songs such as I’ll sing Music To Watch Girls By, Happy Heart, Can’t Take My Eyes Off You, Almost There, May Each Day, Days of Wine and Roses and of course Moon River.
“I still love singing these amazing songs and what’s great is that there is still an appetite from audiences to hear them,” he says warmly.
“I love looking out and seeing generations of families out in the audience and hearing them sing along. We get a real cross section of people - Grandma and her grandkids - who are all wrapped up in the music.
“It’s a lot of fun and I get to show footage of working with Andy and all these iconic people and tell the stories of what happened. There will also be footage of Andy singing and I’ll accompany him. It feels like it was only yesterday that it was all happening.
“What’s really wild is how much this music means to people. I get so many people come up afterwards to say how much it has meant to them to hear those songs. It’s very special and I get emotional thinking about it.”
It’s clear as we chat that Jimmy is not only warm and friendly but incredibly modest and says he still can’t quite believe he’s celebrating 50 years in the spotlight.
“I never really thought about it and never took it that seriously,” he says. “My brothers were already regulars on the Andy Williams Show when I joined the ranks. But I’ve always loved music, performing and entertaining - there is nothing better than bringing joy to people in that way and allowing them to forget their troubles and have some fun.
“I love that the music can take people back and touch people in this way - for me that’s the biggest reward.
“But it was just normal for us when I was growing up to be doing all these shows and meeting all these people. It went on and I’ve been incredibly lucky but our legacy grew out of Andy. 
“Andy was very special - although to begin with I was scared to death of him! My dad made us rehearse for hours just so we could stay on the TV but all of us respected Andy.
“Then 27 years ago he asked me to build a theatre which I did, enabling us to connect on a business level as well. Then after he died I was asked to take over the operations of his Moon River Theatre in Branson Missouri. I’m now responsible for producing and booking shows and do hundreds each year. It’s a huge honour.
“I wanted to do it so I can keep his legacy alive but this show has blind sided me! Initially it was a pet project of his for the theatre and I wasn’t in it but I produced it. Then people said I should host it so next thing I know, here we are!” he laughs.
“I do a lot of the singing but it’s wonderful to step back and hear people like Charlie and Emily perform some of the songs in their own way and see how it connects with the younger generations.
“It’s really cool and I feel like I’m fulfilling a commitment to an old buddy which I’m thrilled about.”
Despite his obvious enthusiasm and passion for the show, he admits there is a “huge responsibility” to not only honour Andy’s legacy but put on a good gig for the fans, of which there are many. It’s down to his hard work ethic, instilled in him since he was a child, that helps to make it the success it is.
“People pay hard earned money and so it better be worth it in my opinion,” he says cheerfully. “What’s great is the show is attracting new audiences, not necessarily Osmond audiences, so there is more pressure to make sure I deliver.
“It’s got big production elements as well as the band and special guests so it’s visually spectacular as well as musically so.
“I don’t think what I do is hard though because for me it’s just fun but I do feel really blessed that I am still doing what I love.”
Jimmy is clear that it is all down to Andy that he and his brothers had the success they did and that it lasted. And indeed after the Osmond siblings went their separate ways, brothers Jimmy and Donny in particular enjoyed solo success on stage as well as screen.
For Jimmy it included spending time producing the Andy Williams Show alongside various television specials as well as writing and illustrating the award-winning children’s book Awesome Possum Family Band in which Jimmy used his cartooning skills to create the characters himself.
He has also spent a great deal of time on and off in the UK thanks to performances in several West End shows such as Grease, appearing in panto, on ITV’s I’m A Celebrity…. Get Me Out of Here, All Star Family Fortunes and of course cooking up a storm in the BBC TV show Celebrity Masterchef in which he made it all the way to the finals.
“In the UK, the other things I’ve done and opportunities I’ve been offered such as the jungle and the cooking, they have been such great experiences and have made me not afraid of tackling anything that comes along,” he says. 
“With Celebrity Masterchef it got really emotional because it went way beyond what I had expected - I mean come on! It was such a cool experience although it now means my family wants me to cook!
“But these experiences have also allowed me to take away friendships that have really lasted and I feel when I go out on stage now it’s to see my audiences who I consider friends.
“They all care so much and I care about them so it’s a lovely experience and I’m so looking forward to getting out there and seeing them again with this tour. It will be awesome.”

Jimmy Osmond’s A Tribute To Andy Williams - Moon River and Me is on at the Churchill Theatre, Bromley on Monday, October 17 and at New Wimbledon Theatre on Tuesday, October 18. Visit or call the box office on 0203 285 6000 or visit or call the box office on 0844 871 7646 for full listings.

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