Jimmy Osmond keeps memory of mentor Andy Williams alive with ‘Moon River’ tribute

Watertown Daily Times | Chris Brock | May 7, 2017

OGDENSBURG — Jimmy Osmond is still over the moon about his mentor, the late Andy Williams.

He will bring his “Andy Williams: Moon River and Me!” tour to the north country on Saturday, May 20, as part of the Ogdensburg Command Performances series.

“He continues to bless my life, ever since I was 3 years old,” Mr. Osmond said in an April 25 phone interview from the Andy Williams Performing Arts Center and Theatre in Branson, Mo. “This ‘Moon River and Me’ tour has been so fulfilling because it kind of culminates not only Andy’s award-winning music, but it’s the music I grew up on.”

Mr. Osmond, 54, is the youngest of the Osmond entertainment family, an act that has sold more than 100 million records, with 59 gold and platinum hits worldwide. The Osmond Brothers began as Alan, Wayne, Merrill and Jay. Donny later joined them, making it a five-member group. Jimmy was the last to join, and eventually the act became known simply as the Osmonds. Sister Marie, who rarely sang with the group, launched a solo career in 1973.

“I thought every kid did what I did, because I just grew up joining the group,” Mr. Osmond said.

The Osmonds were “discovered” when they performed at Disneyland in Anaheim, Calif. Shortly after, in 1962, they were booked for the television show “Disneyland After Dark,” which was an episode of “Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color.”

“That’s where Andy Williams’s father saw my brothers,” Mr. Osmond said.

Jay Williams mentioned the act to his son. Andy Williams liked what he saw.

“It reminded him of his brothers, because they sang in a quartet as well, and it’s how they got started, Mr. Osmond said.

From 1962 to 1969, the brothers were regulars on NBC’s “The Andy Williams Show.”

Mr. Osmond and his brothers also toured the world with Andy Williams, who died at the age of 84 in 2012.

“Never in a million years would I think I would end up being empowered by him and his family to continue his musical legacy by taking his music on the road and owning his theater,” Mr. Osmond said.

He purchased the 2,100-seat Andy Williams Performing Arts Center and Theatre four years ago from Mr. Williams’s estate. He said one of Mr. Williams’s final wishes was that he take it over to continue his legacy and often mentioned the idea to Mr. Osmond.

“I never acted on it,” Mr. Osmond said.

A few weeks before Mr. Williams died, he had another request for the Osmonds, who regularly performed at his venue, then known as the Moon River Theatre.

“He called us and said he wanted us, ‘his boys,’ to do one more week of shows at his theater,” Mr. Osmond said.

At the time, the Osmonds were finishing a tour in the United Kingdom. They returned to the U.S. the night before Mr. Williams died.

“I never got to say goodbye,” Mr. Osmond said.

Mr. Williams’s family later approached Mr. Osmond about Andy’s wish for him to take over his theater.

“I said, ‘Well, let me try,’” Mr. Osmond said. “I produced a Christmas show and it went so well that I ended up buying it.”

The “Andy Williams: Moon River and Me!” show debuted at the Branson theater and last year was taken on the road, overseas. The show continues on a U.S. and worldwide tour this year.

“I hope he’d be pleased,” Mr. Osmond said of Mr. Williams. “The theater is thriving, and everywhere I go I bring visibility and remembrance to his style of music.”

Andy Williams was an American icon, whose voice was declared a “national treasure” by President Ronald Reagan. He recorded 44 albums, 17 which were gold-certified. Among his hits are “Moon River,” “Born Free” “Can’t Get Used to Losing You” and “More.” He recorded eight popular Christmas albums, and his single “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year” is still a Christmas-season staple.

Apart from his brothers, Jimmy Osmond has had his own hits. In 1972 in England, he occupied the prestigious “Christmas Number One” spot in that country with “Long Haired Lover From Liverpool.” It was the biggest-selling single of the year and went on to spend 27 weeks on the charts. The hit also put Mr. Osmond in the Guinness World Records book as the youngest person ever to top the U.K. charts, a record he still holds.

He is also busy on stage and on TV. In recent years, he’s played Teen Angel in “Grease” on the West End in London, Billy Flynn in the touring production of “Chicago” and Captain Hook in “Peter Pan” in Britain. Television appearances include “Fame,” “I’m a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here!” and, last year, “Celebrity Master Chef.”

Mr. Osmond’s production company, Osmond Entertainment, produces more than 300 shows a year.

“I’m in about a hundred of them,” he said.

He said he and his brothers also have an arena tour scheduled for this fall.

“I’ve worked so many years with my brothers and my sister, and now to be able to do this show on my own and still be involved with them — I’m enjoying every day of it,” Mr. Osmond said.

■       ■       ■

Jimmy Osmond’s “Moon River and Me!” is more than Mr. Osmond covering the songs made famous by his mentor and the Osmonds.

“Andy was always contemporary in embracing other artists,” he said. “He was a pioneer in variety television and he had that variety in shows, and that’s what I’ve continued.”

Special guests at the May 20 concert will be singer Charlie Green, quick-change artists Pasha and Aliona and the Moon River Band.

Mr. Green, 20, from Worcestershire, England, rose to fame in 2008 after appearances on the television show “Britain’s Got Talent.”

“All the young kids come and just fall in love with him,” Mr. Osmond said. “He sings in that almost Michael Bublé-style. He’s about the same age Andy was when he was having his big hits.”

Pasha and Aliona are known for their dancing while changing clothes on the fly, often within seconds while disappearing behind stage props.

“It’s hard to really explain what they exactly do,” Mr. Osmond said. “You have to see them. It’s absolutely a miracle.”

The show also shows archival footage of Andy Williams.

“I took this show last year to Europe, and I would look out into the audience and I was just shocked to see how many people were of a really young age who just wanted to live that nostalgia that Andy lived,” Mr. Osmond said.

This year, the show is booked overseas from Japan to Ireland. It opened April 25 in Branson.

“We’re kicking it off here at my theater and then we’re coming in your direction,” Mr. Osmond said.

Last year, the show was well received by audiences and critics. But Mr. Osmond said the “nicest compliment” he ever received was from Don Williams, one of Andy’s brothers and former manager of the Osmonds

“He comes to the show” and with tears in his eyes “said Andy would be so proud,” Mr. Osmond said. “That means the world to me because he was like family.”

Andy Williams’s wife, Debbie, has also seen several “Moon River” shows in Branson.

“Hopefully, they’re all happy with what we’re doing,” Mr. Osmond said. “If you can lift people and let them forget their troubles for a couple of hours in a show and have them remember an easier day, that’s a great job — if you can call it that.”

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