New York • Much like America's 1976 bicentennial that launched their TV variety show, Donny & Marie Osmond represent a bill of goods. Behind their wholesome good-looks, singing talent, and relentless charm exists the entertainers' unyielding belief in the power of nice over noise, of warmth over mystery.
Their New York show is a throwback to a time when television variety shows ruled the entertainment landscape. Remember that era? The masses tuned in weekly, as high-brow aesthetes scoffed, and boatloads of indifferent teenagers were drawn along for the ride whenever big sister turned on the television to fawn over Donny, the teenage heart throb.
So it is with "Donny & Marie: A Broadway Christmas," which spans the decades to show there's still life in the genre. The show mines the scope of the pair's joint 48-year career with the fearless energy of a carnival ride. Faced with the duo on stage, without the barrier of a television screen, there's nowhere for a theatergoer to duck for cover.
The Broadway show, a pulsing kaleidescope of all things Donny and Marie, opened in previews last week and continues through Dec. 30. It's a relentless collection of Christmas and pop-song medleys, show-tunes homages, wardrobe changes, not to mention a generous helping of interaction with the audience and big-screen slide shows from the past.
Stay away if your inclination is to resist such energetic entertainment. Yield to this fast-paced spectacle, and you will be rewarded with a hypnotic experience that's better seen than heard, felt more than thought about afterward.
Even if you don't care for Donny and Marie's brand of something-for-everything entertainment, the show's tempo is so fast-paced, so vigorous, you have to respect their stamina.
True fans need no recommendation, of course. The lobby of the Marriott Marquis Theatre attracted devotees who made the pilgrimage from as far away as Dallas and England. The crowd also included a handful of friends from Long Island who intended to see four repeat shows over three days.
The show's Dec. 9 opening came less than a month after the end of a contentious lawsuit with Chip Lightman, producer of their Las Vegas show at the Flamingo. Alleging that the Osmonds dismissed him before their contract ended in 2012, Lightman labeled Donny "underhanded, devious, fraudulent and greedy," contending he lavished money on fancy cars.
In a Nov. 12 announcement from Osmond lawyer Howard E. King about the suit's settlement, Lightman retracted his statements, saying he was "sorry that, in the heat of battle, comments may have been made that were hurtful to the Osmonds." Speaking from his dressing room the morning after his 53rd birthday and the show's opening performance, Donny quipped that he "never knew that a Toyota pick-up and a Smart Car were exotic."
The nuisance of a behind-the-scenes legal squabble paled next to the emotional trauma of the February suicide of Marie's son, Michael Bryan. From the New York stage, Marie's performance of an operatic aria framed the moment in aching context. Marie, dressed in white, offered a tearful introduction in her son's memory, while her sweeping hand gestures embraced the audience to create the most sustained, heartfelt moment of the evening.
Dividing the show between sibling segments, it was Donny's turn to bring the show back into a good-time vibe. Aside from a full-throttle performance of his 1989 hit "Soldier of Love," his most remarkable moment was just as gracious as his sister's therapeutic tribute to her son.
Declaring everlasting amazement for the talent of his musical hero Stevie Wonder, Donny launched into a medley of his favorite Wonder hits, replete with an extended, big-screen projection clip of the man himself, singing "My Cheri Amour" from the Osmonds' TV show.
These two moments revealed the rare, private faces of entertainers best known for back-and-forth jabbing and joshing of cute sibling rivalry.
Not that there weren't cute moments galore. After ribbing her brother for gloating over his 2009 "Dancing With The Stars" victory, Marie reminded him and the audience that she made it to third place on the same show. "So did Bristol Palin!" he quipped.
"Last night was fun, but it was a lot of smoke and mirrors," Donny conceded the next day. "But that's not a derogatory way of putting it."
Only the most cynical would give Donny's words a derogatory spin. If your heart isn't moved once, twice or even thrice during the magical history tour that is "Donny & Marie: A Broadway Christmas," it's not just the Osmond lore you've got a problem with. It's probably the notion of risk-free family entertainment itself.
'Donny & Marie: A Broadway Christmas'
When • Through Dec. 30
Where • Marriott Marquis Theatre, 1535 Broadway at 46th Street, New York City