Another opening, another show -- only for this one the opening night was in the afternoon. It was somehow appropriate that Donny Osmond's stage debut in "Little Johnny Jones" was set at an hour early enough that none of the kids would miss their bedtime.
At the party after the show, hosted by public relations man Robert Keith Gray, Marie Osmond held court until her brother, the star of the hour, appeared. She and brother Merrill and Donny's wife, Debra, were the only representatives of the Osmond clan to attend the Washington opening, and Marie wasn't even expected. "I was a surprise," she twinkled, all curly hair and blue and purple stripes. Her opinion of the show, however, was not. "I loved it!" she said. "I think I was more nervous than he was."
The audience was wildly enthusiastic for the 1904 George M. Cohan musical, which is 2 1/2 hours of singing, dancing and various plot machinations. At the end, the crowd clapped rhythmically in unison while an American flag unfurled across the entire backdrop of the stage, a fitting coda to a show that began with the audience singing "The Star-Spangled Banner."
"I think the time is really right for that," Marie said later. "People need more of that kind of patriotism."
Little girls -- and some boys -- were fairly well represented in the audience. Some cried at the end of the first act when Johnny Jones seems to be headed for heartbreak and disgrace. Some -- including one group whose mother said they had a bathroom with Donny and Marie decor at home -- crowded around Donny when he arrived at the party and shyly asked for autographs and pictures.
"I thought it was great," said George Grizzard, a classical actor who is in "The Physicists" at the neighboring Eisenhower Theater. "I think we'll add a tap-dance number to our show. I think Donny and Marie are wonderful -- I used to watch them on television every Friday night."
Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor extended her compliments, as did Secretary of Health and Human Services Richard Schweicker and Nancy Thurmond, wife of Sen. Strom Thurmond (R-S.C.). White House Deputy Chief of Staff Michael Deaver, his wife and two children had their pictures taken with Donny.
"We're going to make so much money!" said Michael P. Price of the Goodspeed Opera House as he embraced the star. Price originally produced the show and had folded its faltering touring company version when Osmond decided he wanted to venture into the theater, nearly two years after he was initially approached by Price.
The ambassador from the People's Republic of China, Chai Zemin, made his first visit to the Kennedy Center to see "Little Johnny Jones." "The story is very interesting, and the performance is very good," he said through a translator. "We didn't quite get all the story though. But all the singers are very good."
Roger L. Stevens, chairman of the Kennedy Center, seemed to feel he had a winner on his hands. Although he said he'd never heard of Donny Osmond until a few months ago, he was full of praise for his new star. "He can sing, he can dance, he is good-looking," said Stevens. "He's got everything." The star himself got a round of applause when he arrived, still wearing his stage makeup. Marie greeted him with a lavish hug. Sipping a glass of orange juice, he was guided efficiently around the room by his manager. Asked how he felt, he said simply: "Tired."