BWW Reviews: DONNY & MARIE Bring Holiday Cheer to the National
With multifaceted careers that span multiple decades, there's little doubt that Donny and Marie Osmond know how to individually and collectively entertain a crowd be it on television, in a live concert format, on the Broadway stage, or via audio recording. A combination of talent, timeless wholesome appeal, and an endearing and probably relatable sibling relationship has allowed them staying power many artists can only dream about. On tour with their latest version of their holiday show - now playing in Washington, DC at the National Theatre - their legions of loyal fans have yet another chance to revel in the fun of them sharing their love for music, family, the holidays and more.
Admittedly, I am not of the age where I can say I remember any of their television specials and the like and I've never watched Dancing with the Stars (both siblings competed on the show in recent years with Donny winning his season with his partner). As a musical theatre nerd, I know Mr. Osmond as an actor/singer who took on some classic roles on stage (Joseph in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, Gaston in Beauty and the Beast) and provided the singing voice for Captain Li Shang in Disney's Mulan. So, I entered this concert as a bit of an outsider and very different from the lady who sat in front of me with the impressive array of Donny and Marie memorabilia (it was bit eye-widening, I must say). Having said all that, while I was not completely sold on all elements of this concert, I can certainly now appreciate more of what they offered, and still offer, to American pop culture.
Accompanied by some very high energy young dancers and a rocking band (special shout out to Rocco Barbato for his impressive sax solo on "Christmas Zoot" in Act Two), Donny and Marie gave their adoring audience a little bit of everything as they pranced around expansive sets (Perry "Butch" Allen and Peter Morse) under Las Vegas show-style lighting (Peter Morse and Joseph Lucas Eddy). From traditional holiday selections ("Need a Little Christmas," "All I Want for Christmas is You," among others), songs from musical theatre ("For Good," from the ubiquitous Wicked proved a surprising choice, but appropriate for a show that centers on the value of relationships/love for others), to career hits ("Puppy Love," "Paper Roses," among others), they showcased their love for all things music with such joyous energy. It was infectious even for this curmudgeon reviewer.
While some of the high energy moments proved impressive from a pure stamina perspective (Donny's "Soldier of Love" in particular), it was a few of the quieter moments that caught my attention the most.
Donny, alone at the piano, shared the inspirational "Whenever You're in Trouble" as a homage to his parents (a lovely video tribute preceded this sincere moment). His smooth tone and emotional delivery was a winning combination. His rendition of Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice's "Close Every Door" (Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat) had every ounce of emotional intent that one would expect when someone is playing Joseph well in an actual stage production. It was nice to see that emotion translate well to the concert setting and his vocals were, quite simply, perfection.
Marie didn't fare as well for me from a vocal perspective especially in the duets and in the more upbeat solo numbers, but to be fair she seemed to be having a bit of ear monitor trouble that one would hope is rectified as the run progresses. However, I did appreciate her take on some Rodgers and Hammerstein classics from The King and I and The Sound of Music. Her warm tones proved pleasing to the ear and the technique was also more or less solid even if I would have appreciated a more natural sound mix at those moments. Likewise, the incorporation of "Ave Verum Corpus" proved a little perplexing from a staging perspective (she was standing in a shadow in a white gown). As the only classical number, it also seemed a little at odds, tone-wise, from the rest of the show. That being said, it made for a pleasant listen. She can take on varied vocal styles and seems eager to give anything a try. You have to take note of that.
The solid rapport the singers had with one another made even the most cringe-worthy and seemingly never ending sibling rivalry-infused banter palatable. It's clear this is what they're known for and they do it well. They also rolled with the punches even amidst obvious sound trouble (the sound mixers, along with the creative team, should take note that the National is not a Las Vegas show room and that a natural sound is preferred to an overly processed one even if it is 'less than perfect'). Additionally, the moments where the audience - particularly the older female variety - got a little too enthusiastic as they duo walked into the seating area at multiple points in the performance didn't seem to take them out of the moment. I have to give them credit for their professionalism.
Quibbles aside, Donny and Marie delivered a fun evening out that the whole family could enjoy. They certainly did not rest on their laurels and seemed fully engaged at every moment. It was clear they were having a great deal of fun along with the audience. Even if they're not your cup of tea, that has to count for something.
Running Time: 2 hours and 20 minutes, including an intermission.
"Donny & Marie: Christmas at the National" plays through December 7, 2014 at the National Theatre - 1321 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW in Washington, DC. For tickets, call 1-800-514-3849, purchase them online, or go to the box office.
Photo Caption/Credit: Donny and Marie Osmond and the Ensemble (Photo by Jeremy Deputat)