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theatre review

Donny and Marie: Christmas in Toronto.Jeremy Deputat

What is there to criticize about Donny and Marie: Christmas in Toronto, really? You get Donny, you get Marie, you get Christmas in the form of easy-listening carols and family-focused anecdotes that begin, "You know, this time of year…". It is what it is.

You don't get much Toronto, it's true. Canada's biggest city is more of an afterthought in this travelling version of the Osmond siblings' Las Vegas act.

Marie does give a stirring tribute to the Canadian Forces at one point – and an image of a Canadian flag, flapping, has been inserted into a montage saluting the (otherwise American) troops.

But at another point, Donny mentioned "this great country of ours" and the Maple Leaf sticker fell off the show. That's forgivable enough when you're coming straight off of Donny and Marie: Christmas at the National (in Washington) and you're on your way to Donny and Marie: Christmas at Foxwoods (a resort casino in Connecticut), though.

Full disclosure: Donny and Marie Osmond are not singers or celebrities or Mormons that I know all that much about.

I am vaguely aware that Donny's 1972 version of the Paul Anka song Puppy Love hit No.3 in the U.S., but went all the way to No.1 here in Canada. And I once saw a clip of Donny and Marie's 1977 Star Wars Special on YouTube where the variety-show hosts played Luke and Leia; that episode is notable, I understand, largely for the way it anticipated the revelation in Return of the Jedi (six years later!) that the two are brother and sister.

That's it, though. Donny and Marie: Christmas in Toronto was an Osmond education for me, then. It turns out that Marie is "a little bit country" and Donny is "a little bit rock'n'roll" – and they have a song about this that is their theme tune. (They are backed up by eight, good-looking dancers with over-the-top smiles and a six-person band with an over-the-top saxophonist in the show.)

Donny, who turned 57 on opening night leading to not one, but two audience renditions of Happy Birthday, looked really happy to be at the Princess of Wales – and if he was aware that Trey Parker and Matt Stone's The Book of Mormon had been in the theatre immediately prior to his arrival, he never let on.

Donny has a smooth, unthreatening voice that you could fill a glass with and leave out for Santa if you ran low on milk. But I didn't totally buy his sweetness: He told a story about not being recognized by a taxi driver in Los Angeles that was meant to be self-deprecating, but it made him seem a little vain.

So did the fact that Donny spent much of the show roaming the aisles, sort of singing while woman after woman around his age took selfies with him, gave him presents or just hugged him. I found this a little embarrassing at first, but eventually decided it was kind of adorable. Later, running up the aisle in a number called Boogie Woogie Santa Claus, Donny gave me a high five and he really seemed to mean it – and I think I did too!

Still, Marie was much more fascinating. She made repeated, weird jokes about a brand of "weight-loss meals" that she apparently promotes. At one point, she tossed a brand of lipstick that she also promotes to a 12-year-old girl. Later, she chatted with a man in the audience and asked if the young woman next to her was his wife; it was his daughter. Yoicks!

Marie had some country hits in the 1970s and 1980s, but she describes her voice as "versatile" – and showed her Broadway chops (off?) by singing some Rodgers and Hammerstein. We were also told that she liked to sing opera – and then she entered in a monk-like robe singing Ave Verum Corpus, which is actually a piece of classical choral music by Mozart. You couldn't really hear her over the backing track. There was a montage of stained-glass windows depicting the baby Jesus during this even though Ave Verum Corpus was written to celebrate the feast of Corpus Christi.

Oh, look at me, I'm so smart. Honestly, who cares? More genuinely problematic was the way Marie held the final note on the hymn How Great Thou Art for so long that she got a standing ovation. Kind of missing the point, albeit hilariously so.

On the subject of montages, Donny and Marie might want to take out that image of Bill Cosby that begins their one of celebrities from Groucho Marx to Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen; they could cover his face with another Canadian flag, maybe.

"Remember when I was young and so were you – and time stood still and love was all we knew?" the brother and sister sang to one another as images of Johnny Carson and Snoop Dogg were shown behind them. I didn't understand this sequence at all.

But then Donny and Marie: Christmas in Toronto is not really comprehensible to me on any level. I brought along the mother of a friend who liked the young Donny, but hasn't really followed his career all that closely. "It was good, but not great," she said at the end – and bestowed 2 1/2 stars out of 4 on the show.

Whoa, harsh. I'm going to overrule that and given the show 3 stars, because it succeeded at being Donny and Marie and Christmas and what else do you want?.

Donny and Marie continues to December 21. Visit www.mirvish.com for tickets and times.