Singing Siblings Donny and Marie Balance Past, Present At Flamingo
Las Vegas Review-Journal
by Mike Weatherford
May 27, 2011
If you were Donny and Marie, you would probably want to leave the '70s behind too.
When the Osmonds reunited at the Flamingo Las Vegas in 2008, it was as if the kids had flown the nest, but their parents -- in this case, lifelong fans -- held off converting their rooms into an office, preserving their childhood artifacts in hopes they'd be reclaimed.
The singing siblings were rightly proud to show off their present-day selves. Both looked and sounded great (and still do) in peak "Dancing with the Stars" shape, belting show tunes and Stevie Wonder classics.
But the attempts to dust off the sibling-rivalry, cue-card banter of their toothy past seemed forced. Been there, done that.
And when the show went off the rails with a Stray Cats "Rock This Town" cover in summer-stock "Guys and Dolls" zoot suits, it was hard to call: Deliberately campy shout-out to insipid '70s TV? Or an old-habits-die-hard relapse?
The duo have updated their show to run at least through 2012, just in time to promote the new country-pop album they recorded together. The new show has the same structure -- half-hour solo sets from each, framed by combined material -- but it makes peace with the past.
With Donny's set in particular, it's like the old scrapbooks have been rescued from a closet, and he's having fun dusting off the memories. You laugh with, not at, his update of the Osmond Brothers' ridiculous 1971 hit "Yo-Yo."
Donny and the male dancers first strut in front of a vintage video of the Osmond brothers in their finest '70s jumpsuits. "But I had the haircut first!" Donny says of the amazing tonsorial similarities to Justin Bieber. Then the song gets all white-boy funky, as it might sound should the Bieb cover it today. No worries about laugh at versus with. You just enjoy.
A few chuckles still are not as obviously deliberate. One could argue a Donny and Marie show would be quite dull without such moments: Marie strapping on a guitar and pretending to rock it for Aerosmith's "Walk This Way," leading into a hip-hoppy update of "These Boots Are Made for Walkin'." Or Donny working an animal-print vest and getting blasted by a smoke machine in "Crazy Horses," known to Osmond esoterics as the one hit that traded bubble-gum pop for a genuine rock riff.
The larger effort holds a relaxed but sure grasp on the balance between nostalgia and present-tense headliner showcase, the type that dominated Vegas before the acrobats.
These two have spent their lives as entertainers, so the pacing is just right, and there's hardly a wasted moment. But they also grew up in an era that drew a distinct line between "entertainer" (a la Andy Williams, who discovered them) and the singer-songwriters forging their own generation's standards.
When Marie gets on her knees to belt Liza Minnelli's "But the World Goes 'Round," from "New York, New York," people applaud the showboating delivery, not a feeling for the lyrics, despite their resonance a year after her son's death.
But she does make that honest connection with "Somewhere" from "West Side Story," especially after talking about her late son Michael onstage.
Donny also reaches beyond pure showmanship with an anecdote about his son's Mormon mission, followed by an original tune it inspired, performed at the piano. But because he is incurably a showman, he doesn't stay seated there once the band kicks in.
It's still very doubtful that anyone show-shopping on the Strip would have a neutral opinion about Donny and Marie, or check their baggage at the door and see them with an open mind. In the early days of their reunion, the two acted as if such a thing might be possible.
Now, as they stand at just the right distance while closing the show with their TV-variety sign-off, most people will be glad they couldn't keep that door closed.