Donny & Marie 'Christmas' A Fun Throwback
Chicago Sun Times
by Mike Thomas
December 7, 2011
For something called “Christmas in Chicago,” Donny and Marie Osmond’s just-launched extravaganza at the Oriental Theatre is quite an era- and style-spanning pastiche.
Which is to say, it’s all over the map.
Which isn’t to slag its entertainment value, because there’s plenty.
For two hours Tuesday night, the veteran brother-and-sister duo danced and sang like the polished pros they are. They frequently got the crowd involved, too, roaming the main floor during various numbers to shake hands, administer high-fives and plant kisses. At least a couple of chrome domes were tattooed with Marie’s red lipstick.
The variety, though, was dizzying. Featuring everything from holiday ditties and pop hits to country charters, Motown classics and rousing show tunes — performed as duets and solos — the jam-packed production could stand to be tightened a bit. OK, more than a bit.
On a stage bedecked with a tall ornamented Christmas tree, a holly-and-wreath-strewn fireplace hearth and two drum sets, an array of instrumental and vocal musicians provided swell backing as well-toned dancers tore up the floor.
Three huge video screens showed lots of archival “Donny & Marie” and Osmond Brothers footage. Donny’s performance of “Yo Yo” with four onstage cohorts perfectly mirroring his four circa-1970s brothers on film (plus a much younger Donny) was one of the evening’s high points.
Oddly, despite its holiday theme, the evening’s strongest offerings weren’t Christmas-centric. The siblings’ peppy pop song “A Beautiful Life” was rife with tight harmonies. A high-energy Motown medley that included the Beach Boys’ “Little Saint Nick” and Stevie Wonder’s “What Christmas Means to Me” scored big. So did a slew of Broadway tunes, including Marie’s range-pushing “Climb Ev’ry Mountain” from “The Sound of Music” and Donny’s “Close Every Door” from “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.” (In the 1990s, he starred as Joseph in the show’s national tour for more than 2,000 performances.)
Marie’s “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy” and Donny’s version of the Stray Cats’ hit “Rock This Town” were snappy enough but out of place.
In a bizarre segment, Ronnie “Woo Woo” Wickers, the world’s self-proclaimed No. 1 Cubs fan made his presence known. Clad in his favorite team’s garb from head to toe and toting his familiar blue guitar, he emerged from the back of the auditorium and began a dialogue with Marie. She soon invited him onstage to slow-dance and sing (very, very poorly as it turned out) with her during “Blue Christmas.” He suggested they could perform together as “Ronnie and Marie.”
Real moments like that helped balance the mostly stilted onstage patter between bro and sis, much of it groan-worthy.
By far the most emotionally genuine moment of the evening came prior to intermission, and just before Marie was to belt out Andrew Lloyd Webber’s plaintive “Pie Jesu.” The proceeds from her newest album, she announced, would go to a charity she co-founded — the Children’s Miracle Network — in honor of her late son Michael, who committed suicide early last year at age 18. She’d barely finished the set-up when tears began to flow. And flow.
“My little girl says, ‘Mommy, don’t cry; it’s so gross,’” Marie announced.
The audience laughed.
Her composure finally regained, Marie gave the operatic composition her all, and the evening proceeded in considerably more upbeat fashion.
As one gray-haired woman remarked upon exiting the building, “That’s the best show I’ve been to for my money.”
Well, it certainly wasn’t the worst.