(An edited version of this review originally appeared in the Nottingham Evening Post.)
There comes a point in every teen idol’s career where the hits dry up and the fans drift away, leaving the former idol with some tough choices. It’s a testing time, and many – if not most – never quite recover. Donny Osmond, on the other hand, is one of the great survivors. As last night’s show demonstrated, he has evolved into a seasoned, natural performer who strikes just the right balance between unashamed nostalgia and age-appropriate maturity.
Anyone expecting a syrupy schlock-fest was in for a surprise, as Donny based much of the two-hour set around his most recent album, an intelligently selected array of classic 1970s covers. Highlights included the funky opener Will It Go Round In Circles, a polished How Long, and the astonishing show-stopper Sometimes When We Touch, whose impassioned sincerity held the audience spellbound. (1)
But of course, with most of the overwhelmingly female audience eager to roll back the years, those old teenybop hits had to be aired. Puppy Love was played for laughs (“just because we’re… pushing fifty!”) (2), One Bad Apple was preceded by a wicked Michael Jackson impersonation (3), and The Twelfth Of Never was seemingly selected from an onstage iPod.
The hysteria peaked when Donny left the stage, strode right through the stalls by perching on seat backs (4), and then emerged at the front of both upper tiers, singing all the while. Thirty-five years ago, he would have been torn to pieces. Judging by his relaxed smile, he no longer misses those days at all.
(Photo of Mister O serenading the circle by my darling sister.)
(1) I can see you frowning in disbelief from here, you know. But seriously, I mean it: D.O’s rendition of this particular song ranks as one of the most moving performances I have seen all year. There’s no way of knowing it, of course, but I suspect that he’s lived every word. During the earlier part of the show, we had been comparing Donny to Cliff Richard (5) – but here was where the two performers diverged. Cliff could never have sung this song in this way.
(2) “Every artist eventually gets a signature song. Frank Sinatra had My Way. Andy Williams has Moon River. And I get… Puppy Love.” [pulls “gee, thanks for that” face]
(3) …and an interesting piece of trivia: One Bad Apple had originally been written for the Jackson Five (who rejected it in favour of ABC), whereas Michael Jackson’s Ben was originally written for Donny Osmond, and rejected in favour of Puppy Love. (“But hey, I’d rather sing about a puppy than a rat…”)
(4) …steering a straight course right down the middle of the stalls, until he got to about two rows in front of us. At which point, he suddenly angled off and headed straight for my sister, who was obliged – obliged! – to grasp his hand and pull him across the gap between the seats. “I pulled Donny Osmond!”, she gasped. “You cannot imagine the number of strings I pulled in order to make that happen”, I joshed.
(5) Apart from a brief but worrying moment at the start of the second half, when D.O. re-appeared in a capacious blouson jacket with the collar turned up, the thick belt of his jeans spelling out DEMAND DEMOCRACY in big sparkly letters, performing his AOR-tinged 1988 comeback hit “Soldier of Love” in the sort of galumphing messianic style which evoked memories of David Hasselhoff at the Berlin Wall a year later, single-handedly saving the world from the Red Peril. But the moment passed quickly enough…