Donny Osmond has one of the strongest handshakes in showbiz.
At the announcement Monday by Dancap Productions of three new stage shows coming to Toronto, all attention was on Osmond, who bear-hugged theatre star Colm Wilkinson and seemed to know a large number of the press-conference attendees.
After talking about his Las Vegas show Donny & Marie, which will be coming to Toronto for two weeks in July, he continued to lavish attention on Wilkinson, whose show Colm Wilkinson In Concert: Broadway and Beyond is also set for the stage in August.
Osmond even drowned out Dancap's other announcement - that the Broadway musical Green Day's American Idiot will get a limited run in December.
Dancap's producer and executive vice-president Peter Lamb described the three shows as significant gets for the Toronto theatre company. "There's tremendous competition to get those titles," he said.
For now, Toronto is the only Canadian stop on the North American tour of American Idiot, a musical about disaffected teens, based on rock group Green Day's popular 2004 pop-punk album. But Lamb anticipates that the show will likely be on the road for a long time, with more Canadian tour dates possible in years to come.
Toronto will also be one of four cities, and the only Canadian city, hosting open auditions for American Idiot's North American touring cast . Auditions are scheduled for March 26. The rock musical will open on Dec. 28 at the Toronto Centre for the Arts.
Colm Wilkinson in Concert, coming to the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts Aug. 12 and 13, will be a more intimate affair, with Wilkinson singing a repertoire of his musical-theatre hits and other pop staples.
The rest of Monday's announcement was dominated by Donny. With his jet-black hair and a slightly rounder face than his teen-idol days, Osmond is now in his 50s and a grandfather. Firm slaps on the back could be heard as he finished one interview and started another.
The original plan had been for the Donny & Marie reunion show, which reprises their popular 1970s television variety show, to last up to maybe six months at the Flamingo Las Vegas hotel. Instead, it has played for more than two years, with another extension added to the end of 2012.
"We always knew that we were going to do something together. And when we started putting the show together, we thought this can't just be a walk down memory lane," Osmond said. The Las Vegas show was choreographed by Barry Lather, who most recently worked on staging Usher's world tour. However, it also relies on Donny and Marie's teen hits, from Puppy Love to Paper Roses.
He also knows just what current teen heartthrob Justin Bieber is going through.
Instead of Twitter and YouTube, Osmond did it with 45 RPM singles and TV. "It's the same thing, just different tools. I have such great memories of that era of my life. Osmond Mania, they used to call it. I remember CHUM Radio. Would it have been 1971, 1972? I remember so many screaming girls, screaming fans surrounding the building, they posed a threat just getting out of there," Osmond said, adding that he's interested to see how Bieber handles the transition into a mature performer once that time comes.//
They had played a few performances of the show away from Las Vegas, and took it to Broadway for a limited run last Christmas. As Lamb said, "We convinced them that they should bring the show here. Don't go to a casino. Come and do a high-profile, classy gig right here at the opera house in Toronto."
"This really feels like home to me," Osmond noted. He lived in Toronto for two years in the early 1990s, playing the lead in the Toronto run of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.
The singer knows that some will mistakenly see this as a comeback for him. In fact, Osmond has already had a major comeback after the original Donny & Marie TV show wrapped in 1979 and his career all but ended. In the late 1980s, he reinvented himself as a stage performer, has hosted TV game shows in the United States and Britain, and continues with his radio talk show. "I don't like grass growing under my feet," he added, before closing the interview with another vise-like grasp of the hand.