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Stage review: Donny and Marie exude cozy warmth

By Charles Isherwood

New York Times News Service

Published: Saturday, Dec. 18 2010 3:00 p.m. MST

NEW YORK — Wholesomeness is not the marketable commodity it once was in American culture.

Today's young stars tend to make the transformation from fresh-faced innocent to precocious young adult before they've lost their baby fat, presumably with the advice of managers or parole officers.

This may explain why Donny and Marie Osmond, who rose to fame as the sweet, cherubic teenage stars of their own television variety show in the 1970s, are at pains to present themselves as sophisticated, hard-rocking entertainers in their show "Donny & Marie: A Broadway Christmas," which runs through Jan. 2 at the Marquis Theater.

The costumes are sleek and sexy. Marie Osmond enters in black patent leather boots and a form-fitting beaded, fringed minidress. As electric guitars blare, rock-concert-style video screens show close-ups of the performers, occasionally inspiring idle questions about the Mormon Church's attitude toward cosmetic surgery. And it appears that Donny and Marie are so grown-up that they don't believe in Santa Claus anymore. Despite the mistletoey title, this splashy, Las Vegas-style concert performance includes only a few traditional Christmas songs.

An odd rumbling, as of running bulls or a minor earthquake, precedes the entry of the stars, who ascend from below the stage, silhouetted against the video screens. A couple of introductory nods in the direction of the season — "We Need a Little Christmas" and "Santa Claus Is Coming to Town" — are quickly dispatched before the show moves into more contemporary, wide-ranging pop fare.

Fans who remember their ABC television show will recall the signature sequence in which the Osmonds declared their primary musical affiliation. "I'm a little bit country," Marie would sing. (She had a No.1 country hit with "Paper Roses" in 1973.) "And I'm a little bit rock 'n' roll," Donny would counter with a smile. (He was no Mick Jagger, but never mind.)

They are each a little bit of everything today, it seems, although the eight-man rock band and ear-stinging sound system tend to obliterate distinctions between styles. Almost everything comes across as a synthetically derived pop-rock potpourri. They are both in solid vocal estate, even if the processed sound makes it hard to judge. Great physical shape too: Marie Osmond's legs, sheathed in fishnets, are sensational. They trade wisecracks throughout the show about their recent appearances on "Dancing With the Stars." (Donny won first place, while Marie came in third.)

Marie's solo sequence comes first and travels the most musical territory. A duet with her teenage self (via video) on "Paper Roses" marks the only foray into country. It is followed by a hard-charging "Would I Lie to You" (from the Eurythmics), a jazzy "My Favorite Things" and "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy," featuring the show's eight backup dancers in 1940s attire.

Marie Osmond courageously evokes a number of Broadway stars in a musical-theater medley that moves quickly — but perhaps not quickly enough — through songs including "Some People," "Ease on Down the Road," "All That Jazz," "All I Ask of You" and "Don't Rain on My Parade." Still more daringly, she confesses to an ambition to sing at the Metropolitan Opera one day, before making like Sarah Brightman to perform the "Pie Jesu" from Andrew Lloyd Webber's Requiem. Fog pours forth as Marie appears in a gauzy white feathered cape and sequined sheath. A bit much?

Donny Osmond opens with his catchy 1989 hit, "Soldier of Love," followed by a medley of Stevie Wonder songs. He also acknowledges the heartthrob years with selections from his earliest hits, "One Bad Apple" (the Osmond Brothers song that started it all), "Go Away, Little Girl" and "Puppy Love." He pays brief tribute to Broadway with a snatch of song from "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat," the Lloyd Webber musical in which he performed for six years.

Reunited for the finale, the performers stage a mock dance-off (to "Dance at the Gym" from "West Side Story") before settling in for a sentimental video trip to yesteryear, featuring excerpts from the variety show and the talk show they hosted in the late 1990s.

Although they were never the most distinctive entertainers, the Osmonds are skilled, old-fashioned troupers who have managed to capitalize on their early fame without overtaxing their talents or despoiling them. This in itself is impressive. And despite the snazzy set and the sequins and the screaming guitar riffs, the two exude a cozy warmth that never feels forced or artificial. Like it or not, they still seem wholesome to the core.

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