By Ray Waddell
NASHVILLE (Billboard) - Veteran sibling performers Donny and Marie Osmond are about to begin a 26-week stand in Las Vegas, and Marie Osmond points out that they just might turn Sin City into Sincere City.
The duo will fill the need for a family-friendly variety show in the entertainment mecca, which now is dominated by big production shows a la Cirque du Soleil or single-artist-focused extended runs by one-name stars from Celine to Cher to Elton to Bette.
Their run at the Flamingo Showroom kicks off September 9, with an extension almost a given. The 90-minute show melds multimedia spectacle with Donny & Marie's extensive repertoire, galvanized by their well-known onstage chemistry.
For Donny, the chemistry has to come naturally. "We don't even think about it because if you do, it becomes calculated," he says. "There are places in the show that we like to keep a little loose so we can flow with the audience. If Marie is in a mood, I follow her and vice versa."
Marie says, "I think we really appreciate each other professionally, because we grew up together. On a personal level, it's hysterical because nobody out there has that kind of brother-and-sister thing. We were talking about it: 'Who is a brother and sister that have been together as long as we have?'"
Though they're both Vegas veterans, this run marks Donny & Marie's first extended engagement in the city in 29 years."Donny and I grew up in Vegas, we've played every hotel here," Marie says. "This is the first time at the Flamingo, and we've decided that the Flamingo is perfect, because flamingos as birds live in flocks of 10,000, very much like Osmonds."
Donny says his first Vegas gig was at the Sahara, opening for Shirley Bassey in the '60s, and he's very comfortable in the market. "Even though we are sitting in a recession, and Vegas has been hit a little bit as well, it's pretty much recession-proof because everybody still wants entertainment, and Vegas in my opinion has become the entertainment center of the world," he says.
The idea of reuniting ignited when the pair performed on a TV Land awards show a couple of years ago. The booking may be a natural, but the two singers' busy solo careers made it tough to nail down. Donny had been tied up with his TV hosting duties for shows ranging from game show "Pyramid" to "Entertainment Tonight," Broadway runs and touring commitments. Marie was wrapped up in Broadway performances, her charitable efforts with the Children's Miracle Network and, of course, her high-profile run on TV and touring with hit show "Dancing With the Stars." Additionally, the performing Osmonds got together for a wildly successful U.K./European 50th-anniversary tour in May.
Both Osmonds love the old-school Vegas feel of the Flamingo's 750-seat showroom, and they signed on for six shows in five days every week, with Sundays and Mondays off. "I saw the showroom and it reminded me of what Caesars used to be -- with the booths and the dinner tables, the traditional Vegas -- and that appealed to me," Donny says.
THIS AND THAT
It goes without saying that the show is a little bit country, a little bit rock 'n' roll -- and more. "We wanted traditional Vegas, we wanted production, we wanted variety," Donny says. "I think you have to understand what people expect because of the success of 'The Donny & Marie Show' back in the '70s, and that is the bulk of our audience, obviously. They want variety."
And now, given Marie's run on "Dancing With the Stars," they want dancing. "We tease each other back and forth; I'm a better dancer than her," Donny says. "We put that into the show and it creates that sibling rivalry that's organic in our relationship, and it works. I'm dripping wet at the end of the show because there's so much dancing, so much energy involved. I think (director) Barry (Lather) forgot that I'm 50 years old."
The timing works for Marie on many levels. "It's like Vegas hiccupped and went back into the '70s: It's got Cher and Bette (Midler) and Donny & Marie now," she says. "For me, as a single mom, and especially the kind of work I do flying here and there, it's a really nice sitdown place."
Marie bought a home in Vegas, and Donny will commute from Utah. Neither are strangers to extended runs and the challenges therein. "I did 'King and I' on Broadway and 'Sound of Music' for two years, and out of the two years I only missed five shows," she says. "So I'm a road warrior, and so is Donny. You just have to know how to work -- and not just work, (but) enjoy your work."Donny admits there are challenges to such a lengthy run. "However long you've been in the business, your well runs dry after a certain period of time," he says. "That's why we've left a lot of things kind of loose in the show, so we can expand it."
The key, both admit, is understanding the art and craft of connecting with an audience. "You want people to be entertained, because the bar has been raised very high nowadays, but you also want to give them a piece of you," Donny says. "The nice thing that Marie and I have going for ourselves is 45 years of experience, so we pretty much can make a calculated guess to know what can work, what can't work."
"You want people to leave the theater saying, 'I got entertained,'" says Marie. "We know how to entertain people. At least we hope so. Hopefully we'll get it right some day, then I'll quit."