Want to throw darts of suspicion into the nearest crowd of entertainment snobs? Just say two words: Christmas show.
Unless you're the proud parent of doe-eyed children, or are coupled to a hopeless romantic, only an afternoon of watching soap operas and game shows will draw a more blank face.
The problem with these dour-faced doubters, to hear Donny and Marie Osmond tell it, is that they have no pep left for the holiday spirit. And few entertainment duos put pep into supposed pap like Utah's most famous siblings.
Speaking from Tempe, where the two recently finished a string of performances for "Donny & Marie Christmas in Arizona," Donny said their holiday variety show harnesses three central forces. There's the sentimental power of the holiday itself, the tradition of live variety shows the brother-and-sister team helped inaugurate during the 1970s, plus the hard-won personal wisdom both have garnered after decades of personal and professional life.
That's hard-won wisdom, in age when many entertainers are known through smash hits cooked in the recording studio, rather than live shows that test performers' soul and stamina. That respect grows when you consider that, as Marie admitted during a recent phone interview from her Las Vegas home, the idea of performing a Christmas show followed the tragic February 2010 suicide death of her son Michael Bryan.
Through various iterations since its inception two years ago, the Donny and Marie series of Christmas shows has varied its proportion of Christmas music to show numbers and seasonal imagery to special effects razzle-dazzle. In almost every case, though, their shows have satisfied hard-core fans of the duo's 1970s television show even as it has won over skeptics of the live variety show format.
As part of the duo's first production of "Donny & Marie: A Broadway Christmas" in December 2010, Marie sang an aching operatic aria in homage to Bryan. "This all happened because my son passed away and I didn't want to be alone at Christmas," she said. "I wanted to serve other people through music and a good time."
Even before that, her life became a public bulletin with stories of postpartum depression, a second divorce, and, since her son's death, remarriage to first husband Steve Craig.
"There have been things in my life I wish could have been more private, especially for my children," she said, laughing. "But life is life. If you're afraid to live it or embrace it, it can be a difficult journey."
Her brother echoes those sentiments. While his family life has never been as tumultuous as his sister's "The kids in my Provo neighborhood call me 'Uncle Donny,'" he said he's nonetheless struggled, at times, to find career momentum after his halcyon days as a teen heart-throb with a penchant for purple socks. It's taken years, he said by phone from Arizona, to learn how to sing "Puppy Love" without a trace of irony and have a blast doing it.
"Some people still keep me in a pigeonhole," he said. "It used to spark a lot of resentment, much more then than it did now. But you either embrace that, or get out of the business. I enjoy the business too much to get out of it."
In the storied life of professional entertainers, all this personal reflection becomes relevant in the context of a Christmas show. That's because, almost more than any other time of year, the holiday is a time of reflection. The fine art of the Christmas show requires a formula that mixes hope with joy.
"You've got to treat it gently," Donny said. "You're dealing with family and memories. You've got to have elements that party hard, but it's also about ebb and flow. Some people take it too lightly; others too seriously. I think Marie and I have found the happy medium, and that's a critical ingredient."
In the spirit of their real-time repartee, which poured out of 1976 television sets and onto America's shag-carpeted living rooms in TV-saturated America, Marie echoes the sentiment.
"I promise anyone who's in a funk, come see the show," she said. "It's all about parking your troubles and leave you feeling better."
'Donny & Marie-Christmas in Salt Lake'
When • Dec. 26-29. Wednesday and Thursday, 7:30 p.m.; Friday, 8 p.m.; Saturday, 2 p.m. and 8 p.m.
Where • Abravanel Hall, 123 W. South Temple, Salt Lake City
Tickets • $31-$133.50, at www.newspaceentertainment.com/saltlakecity, or 801-355-5502.