Donny & Marie: A Broadway Christmas: Theater Review
I swear, the luscious red lip-print Marie Osmond planted on my bald dome during her detour into the audience had nothing to do with it. But I found the living-kitsch Americana exhibit called "Donny & Marie: A Broadway Christmas" perversely enjoyable.
The very white crowd at a recent performance clearly shared that pleasure. (My partner observed with some apprehension as we took our seats, "I seem to be the only ethnic face here.") This is entertainment that knows what its audience wants and delivers it in spades. Like The Pee-wee Herman Show, which is sending nostalgic 1980s stoners into paroxysms of glee a couple blocks away, this vacationing Vegas act strikes evocative chords for anyone 35 and over who grew up exposed to Donny & Marie.
Sure, there are concessions to the passing of time. Marie can now nail the hard "R" that eluded her on "Paper Woses" in her teens. And it's titillating to watch her tear off the floor-length skirt of appliqued blooms she wears for that number, transitioning instantly from damaged damsel to growling cougar as she lashes the dancers with her Kardashian weave in "Would I Lie to You?" Take that, Donny. Turns out Marie is a little bit rock 'n' roll, too.
But whatever superficial changes they may have made to their act, Donny & Marie remain fundamentally unaltered as entertainers. They're still doing the same cute sibling animosity shtick, albeit with updated references to their respective Dancing With the Stars results. They still handle vocal chores with assurance across a range of styles, and they still display a generosity toward their audience that makes them charming relics of a bygone age. The extensive video input serves not only to recap their 48 years in show business, but to provide an affectionate time capsule of the last days of the American variety show in the 1970s.
There's also an intoxicating whiff of the disco era in the laser lighting and heavy hand with the fog machine, notably in an opening medley of switched-on Christmas tunes during which D&M ascend from twin elevators onto an upper dais. The futuristic aesthetic is pure chintz, but irresistibly so.
The giant video close-ups reveal a distinct Paula Abdul thing happening with Marie's face, but she looks sensational nonetheless, opening in a shimmering black fringed number and patent leather dominatrix boots. Ditto Donny, who's now less puppy-love boyish than carefully buffed and packaged. Even when he rocks out in a bizarrely aggressive resurrection of "Crazy Horses," his crisp untucked shirt says wholesome, not rebellious.
Both headliners get a solo stretch. Donny's segment includes a rowdy "Soldier of Love," from his Wham! period, and a Stevie Wonder tribute, backed by a dance corps whose moves span boy band to Disney Channel hip-hop. Marie tears through a show-tune medley, presumably to meet the requirements of the Broadway subtitle, and performs Andrew Lloyd Webber's "Pie Jesu," from her recent inspirational album. That interlude also serves to acknowledge the loss of her son this year.
Despite the intermittent charms of these sections, it's when brother and sis are together onstage that the show gets its comfort-food recipe just right. Their interaction with each other and the audience is warm and playful, and the occasional note of gentle self-mockery suggests they don't take their roles as American Entertainment Institutions too solemnly. While there are just enough holiday-specific songs to qualify this as a Christmas show, it's really a Donny & Marie career retrospective.
I'm confessing nothing, but don't be surprised if you find yourself singing along to "Leaving It All Up to You" and scurrying to YouTube to binge on vintage Donny & Marie clips.
Venue: Marquis Theatre, New York (runs through Jan. 2)
Cast: Donny & Marie Osmond
Director-choreographer: Barry Lather
Music director: Jerry Williams
Production designers: Perry "Butch" Allen, Peter Morse
Set and video designer: Perry "Butch" Allen
Costume designer: Kirstin Gallo
Lighting designer: Peter Morse
Presented by Gregory Young, the Production Office, Jon B. Platt, On the Line Company, Magic Arts & Entertainment, Newspace Entertainment in association with Greg Sperry, Eric Gardner