Stage debut sounds a challenge to performer Marie Osmond

Marie Osmond has it about right. Most people would think the part of Maria von Trapp, the inspirational singing governess of "The Sound of Music," is the most natural role for her stage debut.

Is there a more wholesome character in musicals? And who better than a member of an authentic singing family?


The newest Maria welcomes the role, but rejects the notion that she and her character are alike.

"I don't think I'm similar to Maria at all," says Ms. Osmond, who is starring in "The Sound of Music" that plays the Lyric Opera House through next Sunday. The production is directed by James Hammerstein, son of original lyricist Oscar Hammerstein.


"I'm an analytical type, I've been brought up in this business. I like to perceive things and understand what's in front of me, where [Maria] totally thinks with her heart," the country-music performer says.

Many will remember Ms. Osmond as the teen-age host, with brother Donny, of "The Donny and Marie Show" in 1976. She made her show business debut at 3 1/2 on TV's "Andy Williams Show" with her brothers, the Osmonds, and had a hit record, "Paper Roses," at 13.

"I have been really fortunate to do so many different kinds of things and still be really young. I mean, most people get started about my age," says the 34-year-old mother of four, who is in her second marriage.

"Actually, I started long before I was born," she jokes. "To have worked that many years, I really think it's important that a person challenge themselves periodically, or things become stale."

Although she has been offered stage roles in the past, and brother Donny currently stars in a road production of "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat," Ms. Osmond says this new career challenge came to her unexpectedly.

Ms. Osmond says Mr. Hammerstein and his company, Rodgers and Hammerstein Productions, approached her last spring.

"I think most people think of 'The Sound of Music' as boring and cutesy and kind of saccharine, and initially I thought the same thing," she says. But after "dissecting the character, I went to them and said, 'You guys, the only way I'll do this is if I do her the way I see her.' . . .

"For a woman to take on seven children, that's a very gutsy female. I know, because my mother raised nine," she says with a throaty laugh.


"For her to take on this captain [played here by Keir Dullea], who is just totally absorbed into himself, this is a really substantial female."

"The Sound of Music" is the story of a young woman who leaves a convent to become governess to the seven children of Georg von Trapp, a stern ex-military man living in the Austrian Alps. She teaches them to sing, falls in love with the captain, and together they use their appeal as a family act to escape the Nazis.

It's a true story. After leaving Austria, the Trapp Family made a living as singers, traveling across the United States, Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean and South America into the late 1950s.

The Rodgers and Hammerstein production was the second-longest-running musical on Broadway in the 1960s, and the 1965 movie adaptation won a pile of Oscars.

Is Ms. Osmond daunted by taking on a role so closely associated with Julie Andrews, who was nominated for a Best Actress Oscar for the part?

"Well, Julie had to deal with Mary Martin [Broadway's Maria], and so now I have to deal with Julie Andrews. Everybody has their person to follow," Ms. Osmond says.


Mr. Hammerstein has said he'd like to see Ms. Osmond do "South Pacific" next, and she says, "You know, maybe this will be the beginning of something."

The new "Sound of Music" production leaves Baltimore for a 45-week, 28-city tour. When it plays Chicago early next year, Donny and Marie will be in the same town, for Donny's "Joseph" overlaps "The Sound of Music" there.

"We'll call each other up on the phone and go, 'So how did you do tonight?' " she jokes.

Most recently, Ms. Osmond has been busy with 200 to 260 concert dates a year as a country singer, appearing at state fairs and other events. She sang in 1991 at the Maryland State Fair in Timonium.

"I've been doing country so long this has been really hard for me. You notice I've been saying 'for' instead of 'fer' and 'to' instead of 'ter.' I'd really like to be considered legitimate," Ms. Osmond says, adding that she's been studying with a diction coach.

Ms. Osmond also notes she has been learning from her veteran " co-star, Mr. Dullea, who starred in the science fiction classic "2001: A Space Odyssey" and 25 other films, as well as such stage plays as "Butterflies Are Free," "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof" and "Doubles."


"This is his first musical, and he's really doing it for the same reason I am: He's done everything," Ms. Osmond says.

TV viewers will also have seen Ms. Osmond in recent years as co-host (and co-founder) of the annual Children's Miracle Network Telethon, which raises funds for children's hospitals. And she markets a line of dolls on cable television and through Wal-Mart stores.

She wants all her fans, from whatever venue, to give her new stage incarnation a try.

"Maybe they haven't been introduced to theater as much, especially [fans] from country music, and maybe they don't think about going to the theater. This is a way to say, 'Hey, you guys, you're missing out on something that's absolutely incredible. You really should come.' "

'The Sound of Music'

Where: Lyric Opera House, 1404 Maryland Ave.


When: 2 p.m. today; 8 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday; 2 p.m. Saturday; 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Sunday

Tickets: $20 to $42.50

Call: (410) 889-3911