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Saturday, December 25, 2010

Donny and Marie: A Christmas on Broadway

Donny and Marie. At the Marquis Theater.

First off, both Osmonds are stunning performers. Not necessarily great performers, but stunning all the same. They dance modestly, they have bland but strong voices, they wear clothes well, and they know how to work a crowd. Also, they look good standing in front of giant brightly-lit screens, posing in silhouette. Not everyone can pull this last talent off. It's very difficult to hold a dramatic pose whilst standing before a giant brightly-lit screen. Donny and Marie seemed aware of this, and therefore endeavored to plant themselves before giant, brightly-lit screens as often as possible.

Marie managed to convey a hint of human emotion despite the obvious crippling paralysis of her face muscles. I'm not sure what terrible malady--stroke, perhaps?--caused her left eye to droop or her eyebrows to remain arrested midway up her forehead, but she gamely overcame her hardship by using her excessively-toothed mouth to draw attention away from the crisis area. That the lips of her toothy mouth were distorted to near-Jagger proportions only assisted, rather than depressed, the illusion of genuine emoting.

Donny sweated his way through his portion of the show (aside from a duo at the beginning and end, the show consisted mainly of two solo projects; it might as well have been titled, "Marie's Broadway Show, Then Donny's Broadway Show, with a Few Christmas Songs Tossed In as an Afterthought"). I mean this without any snark or irony: Donny Osmond is a consummate performer. A giant ball of cheese, sure, but he's athletic, shameless, charming, and inspired Greg to rush home to look up his Wiki page so that he might know Donny better (fun fact: Donny opposes gay marriage, but discourages homophobia. He encourages Mormons to accept homos into the church so long as those homo Mormons remain celibate. Go Donny!)

Even though the show has been extended twice--it was to have closed on December 19th, but fortunately extended long enough for me to see it on Christmas, and then extended again to get the show through the New Year--attendance was sparse on Christmas night. Plenty of seats in the house. There are two possible reasons for the lack of asses in seats: Not everyone wants to spend Christmas night sitting in a lurid theater being attacked by wholesome 1970s nostalgia, or else the show is poorly attended each night but the overhead is so low a poorly-attended show like 'Donny and Marie' still manages a profit.

A good portion of the attendees were demonstrably certifiable, I think, unless it's customary to attend a Broadway show, dangle your arms from the mez railing, and scream during each quiet pause in the performance, "We LOVE you, MARIE!" or, "We LOVE you, Donny," or attempt to interrupt each song by walking to the stage and requesting an autograph. I personally witnessed an obese woman in a t-shirt and floral-printed pants rise up from her seat during Donny's performance of "Puppy Love," peel her t-shirt away from her more-than-ample frame (not frame--something that size should be called 'structure') to flash her breasts. Fortunately, her breasts' termination was sufficiently low enough to spare the woman a strenuous t-shirt lift. Minimal effort, maximum boobage. Win-win.

Back to Marie. Marie moved me. Yes, make jokes about the wholesome Mormon silliness that is the Osmond legacy, but the fact is nothing about the public lives of any Osmond suggests they are a disingenuous showbiz family; the Osmonds as a whole seem transparent, honest, genuine.

Look. This is the one paragraph where I'm gonna be just as wholesome as the Osmonds, and it's gonna be a long paragraph because it's very difficult for me to be wholesome and I need to build up some momentum, maintain focus, and power through to the end. Marie Osmond lost a son earlier this year. He killed himself, took a header off the balcony of a multi-storied building. During the show, Marie made mention of this unfortunate event--her eyes almost moved from the emotion she no doubt felt. When she launched in to her set-up for Andrew Lloyd Webber's 'Pie Jesu,' I was prepared to scoff, to cringe, to pinch G's leg and register my scorn, because I knew the song was coming and was horrified/amused Marie Osmond fancied herself an operatic singer, and fancied the song to be worthy of an operatic performance. When she brought up the death of her son, she cried. And, being a cynic, all I could do was think, "Yeah, well, you cry this same speech each night just to get the audience to love you." And that may be true. And when she launched (there is no other way to approach Andrew Lloyd Webber: one either launches into his music, or retreats into a corner to be away from it) when she launched into the 'Pie Jesu' from Requiem, Greg leaned over and whispered to me, "She's singing a requiem for her son." My cynicism took a smoke break. For a moment, I watched the performance without a critical or sarcastic or cheeseophobic intent, deciding to give Marie the benefit of the doubt. A mother, on stage, working the first Christmas of her life, standing on a platform with dry ice pouring from a trap-door behind her, singing Andrew Lloyd Webber. Honestly, I felt pity, and understood. The part I most dreaded in the show became the one moment in the show that moved me. A mother singing a requiem for her dead son, mourning him in a way she thought appropriate.

I just hope she doesn't break down in tears each performance.

Because this was the Christmas performance of a Christmas show, I hope her emotion was real. Using the death of your dead son 8 times a week to create a 'mood' before singing a dreadful Andrew Lloyd Webber piece is beyond crass.

Moving on.

One of the many wonders of the show was the Donny-and-Marie Dance-off, wherein the brother/sister duo competed in a faux "Dancing with the Stars" popularity contest. Using the music from 'West Side Story,' the girl dancers backed up Marie while, predictably, the boy dancers backed up Donny in an alternating dancing spectacular, the scale of which has not been seen on Broadway since the 2004 production of 'Dracula: The Musical.' No clear winner was announced. My money was on Donny, for the record.

And then the Christmas show was over, and seemed embarrassed that it had called itself a Christmas show, and promised itself it wouldn't make the same mistake again, even though it was contractually obligated to call itself a Christmas show until well after the New Year. Applause all around. A standing ovation by the certifiable loons in the audience.

Donny and Marie took their bows.

Each has spent nearly a half-century in the Business, by the way. I have it on good authority that such longevity isn't easy to do.

But then, neither is affording a ticket to a good show on Broadway.


Suelad said...

As a certifiable loon I was a trifle miffed at your blog. Donny and Marie are incredibly talented people they have been in the business for nearly 50 years, so there is deffo some talent there. But everyones entitled to their own opinion...I personally cannot stand Barry Manilow or Barbara Streisand, you wouldnt see me dead at one of their concerts.

That said I think you were a little cruel on Marie, it is a horrific thing to lose ones child and to even suggest that she may be putting on the emotion just for the applause was uncalled for.

Anyway I hope you enjoyed the show, you sound like you did they do leave you smiling, cheesy as they may be.

Suelad said...
you made it to MY blog

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