By Kevin Taft
Before my obsession with Star Wars began on Oct. 1, 1977, my other obsession was The Donny & Marie Show. Every Friday night I was glued to the TV to watch the family-friendly variety show starring Mormon wunderkinds Donny Osmond and his sister Marie. I knew the format of the show so well I could time when each segment would begin and end. I knew musical arrangements of certain classic songs (”I’m a Little Bit Country, I’m a Little Bit Rock 'N’ Roll”), I read fan magazines to know more and more about them, and their album, “I’m Leaving It All Up To You” (with a cover photo of an open locket with their faces on each of the sides), was the first album I ever bought with my own money.
On Sept. 30, 1977—my birthday—I was having a medical issue and had to go see a doctor during that night’s episode of the show. The weekly themed finale (occurring at 8:45 p.m.) was The Wizard of Oz. Trouble is, I didn’t see it. My sister recorded it for me on a cassette tape recorder (which I had just received for my birthday that evening), but it wasn’t the same. On the way home from the doctor’s office, I was teary-eyed that I had missed it. My mother turned to me from the front seat and said it would be OK. I said, “But you don’t know how much I LOVE them!” She replied, “I know. Almost as much as you love your father and I.” In my head, I thought to myself, “More! I love them more!” Clearly, I was just upset that I was dragged away from my beloved show. Of course I loved my parents more than Donny and Marie, but seriously—they were a close second.
So with this knowledge, you must understand just how exciting it was for me to be witness to the Donny & Marie: Christmas in Los Angeles show now playing at the Pantages Theatre. After nearly 37 years, I finally got to see my most favorite childhood stars in the world perform live for the first time. Did I ever imagine as a little kid (in my footie pajamas, eating cheese puffs and drinking Coke on the floor of our den as Donny and Marie danced in unison at the top of a flight of stairs while the ice dancers skated below them) that I would finally be a witness to their magic? LIVE? No, I didn’t. Did I ever think that Donny would sing right next to me and SHAKE MY HAND? Nope! But he did!
And here’s the thing. I’ll tell you about their show. And I’ll be honest and tell you I loved the crap out of it. You will probably think it’s simply because I’m a nut who loved them as a kid and it’s simply nostalgia. And you’d be right. But what surprised me is just how entertaining the show was!
Opening the night standing at the top of a staircase, Donny and Marie sang a medley of Christmas tunes, dancing in sync and pacing the stage as their young dancers set up Christmas decorations around them. It was benign and safe and just what I expected from my beloved duo. Between songs, Marie would rib Donny just like she did when they were teens, and the jokes were still just as cheesy. Both would bring up their turns on Dancing with the Stars, and Marie found ways to hock NutriSystem. It all seemed to progress exactly as you’d expect. But about 20 minutes into the show, the surprises came. Mainly in witnessing why these two are stars in the first place.
After singing songs together, the two allowed each other to have their own moments on stage. First up was Marie, who blew through some rocking-style Christmas songs and sexed it up with the men in the audience. (One 7-year-old didn’t know who she was so she told him she was Cher!) Donny’s segment had him acting like a teenager singing a Taio Cruz song and hoofing it up with the twentysomething-year-old dancers that backed him up. It seemed silly at first until you realized he was keeping up with the young-uns! I mean, dude can still move! In the second act of the show, again, they each got their chance to shine alone and this time Marie performed a selection from Madame Butterfly to a well-deserved standing ovation and blew through Kander and Ebb’s “And the World Goes Round.” (Another standing ovation.) Truly, this lady can sing and she could easily be a gay-loved Diva if given the chance. Donny’s portion had him come out and do his '90s hit “Soldier of Love” (I had the cassingle) and a tribute to his brothers’ group, “The Osmonds.”
But that’s not all, the duo performed a medley of Broadway classics that they either performed in themselves (Donny was in Joseph and the Technicolor Dreamcoat, Marie was in The Sound of Music and The King and I) or simply wanted to perform (Wicked). Throughout, the audience bore witness to screens that showed the singing twosome as children and with clips from the Andy Williams Show and their TV variety show. They even got back into the Christmas spirit by bringing up their annual Christmas specials—which also marked another landmark in my young life.
During one of their specials, the entire Osmond clan was gathered in the great room of a massive lodge. The gals were making treats in the kitchen while the boys went out to cut down a Christmas tree. I was so taken with the night sky and snow-covered mountains of Utah and the warmth of the fireplace in the main room of the house, that I would fantasize at night that someday I wanted to make enough money that I could rent a lodge just like that so I could invite my entire extended family to stay there over the Christmas holiday. It’s a fantasy I haven’t forgotten, and while it might never come true, it’s still there on my Dream Board. This is how much they impacted me as a kid and how much I fondly remember their Christmas specials.
So there they were, crooning and cavorting around the stage, just like they did when I was just a pup. Even better, the two frequently went out into the audience; Donny hugging the ladies, and Marie kissing the foreheads of the men. It was all safe and charming and pretty freakin’ awesome.
Sure, the younger generation will probably think the squeaky clean presentation is eye-rolling. For those old enough to remember their emergence on the pop-culture scene, it is an absolute thrill. But I offer that, since this is a gay publication, I truly think the gays will enjoy it. I mean, we love our divas, and I’ll be damned if Marie won’t knock you out of your seat.
Some may think, "but they are Mormons!" They hate the gays. Just remember that a) you can’t assume that just because someone is of a particular faith that they believe everything that their faith dictates, and b) Marie’s daughter is a lesbian and she has openly stated (in 2009) that she believes in her equal rights, including marriage.
So with that, I say, GO! It’s good old-fashioned fun that will have you smiling, singing along and continually amazed at the talent on display. These two have been stars for decades for a reason. This show proves exactly why.
Donny and Marie: Christmas in Los Angeles runs through Dec. 23 at the Pantages Theatre, 6233 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood. Tickets are available for purchase at broadwayla.org, or by calling (800) 982-2787. Showtimes are Tuesday through Fridays at 8 p.m.. Saturdays at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m., and Sunday matinees at 1 p.m. Photos: Donny & Marie Osmond