The Fox Theatre, Atlanta, GA • June 15, 2001
Although it might be hard to remember (or even imagine) now, at one point in this country, Donny Osmond and Michael Jackson were rather like two sides of the same coin. Both led bands with their brothers, both had mucho chart success with catchy radio pop. In the years after, however, the two definitely went separate ways. Michael, as we know, became the King of Pop, and then international freak of the week. Donny, on the other hand, languished for a time in the “where are they now” category of Rock and Roll Jeopardy until he was reborn on Broadway. Even after years of no hits, Jackson could most likely sell out any arena in the world, whereas Friday night in Atlanta, ushers were moving the crowd closer to the front of the Fox in order to make the house (which was only half filled) appear more crowded. But I rather doubt that Michael and his magic glove could have garnered a greater reaction than did Osmond.
I must admit that this was not my first time seeing Donny Osmond in concert. As a boy, I had seen the Osmond Brothers perform – who, along with The Jackson 5 and The Archies, were my favorite bands, hovering as I was in that pre rock and roll stage of development, around age nine or so. However, over the next 30 years (good lord, that sounds like a long damn time•), I must admit that I didn’t keep up with Donny or his bros. So when I looked around at the crowd, I wondered to myself, “what in the hell are these people doing here?” So, being the observant journalist that I am, I asked a few of them. The folks behind me had been given the tickets as a perk of working for Coke, and admitted to not really following Donny. Well, OK. A few rows in front of me sat some people who appeared to be a few years younger than I. Upon speaking with them, I learned that they had driven seven hours from Raleigh to see the show. Egads. A husband and wife and her sister confessed to being Osmond fans for 30 years, and they carried with them an enlargement of a photo of one of them meeting Donny at a charity event. The husband at one point nudged his wife and asked her to tell me why they met. She admitted that her husband’s resemblance to Donny Osmond (with a goatee) was the initial attraction.
At this point, having firmly entered the zone of too much information, I sat my nosy butt down and listened to the preshow easy listening versions of Phil Collins songs. Glancing around at the crowd, I came to see that it was made up of middle-aged women with bored-looking husbands. Well, at least no moshing tonight.
Moshing we didn’t get, but when the eternally youthful Osmond hit the stage, you would have thought these women were 12 years old again. They screamed, they pounded their armrests, and squirmed in agitation in their chairs. It was deafening. Women scurried up the aisle, disposable cameras in hand, hoping to get a memento of the night, their faces flushed in excitement. This was like seeing Elvis. Women I had seen earlier in the evening milling around the backstage entrance and the gathered tour busses (please tell me Donny doesn’t shag groupies•) screamed his name, waved signs, and generally acted like their daughters at an N’SYNC show.
Donny ate it up. Say what you will about his Boy Scout demeanor or the inherent cheese factor of his music, but the man is a pro. Alternating up-tempo numbers with slower, ballad material, he had the crowd in the palm of his hand. “Puppy Love” threatened the structure of Atlanta’s finest venue with destruction due to the wailing of lovesick 50-somethings, and when he did a duet with a videotaped Rosie O’Donnell on “You’ve Got a Friend in Me,” you would have thought it was a Beatles reunion. People yelling “Hello Rosie” to an image on a video screen is a bit unsettling. Reality, anyone?
Continuing in the surreal vein was the smell of pot that wafted over the smoking area during intermission. Surrounded as I was by a gaggle of polyestered women, I had to think that if your idea of a hot night is smoking weed and watching a Mormon sing show tunes, then you’re a bit too strange for my parade.
At one point Osmond reached into the crowd and took a large handmade sign from a fan. The crowded roared when he read, “Dear Donny• You kissed my mother’s hand when she was nine.” Instead of passing out cold, Donny hammed it up, finding the girl (who was there with the mother in question) and planted a smooch on them both. Don’t see that happening on the Warped Tour, now do ya?
The show drew heavily on show tunes, and reeked at times of a heavy Vegas/Branson motif, but judged on it’s own merits, one has to say that Donny Osmond kicks ass. Granted, I wouldn’t want to see him again anytime soon (30 years seems to be about right between visits, thanks) but he sang, he danced, he told self-depreciating jokes, and named dropped with the best of them (one name being Peter Gabriel, a thought too bizarre to ponder). One has to respect a man who can maintain his bearings in such an environment, and hell, he looks 35 years old. Think he and Dick Clark might have the same Dr. Feelgood. But on a spring night in Atlanta, Donny Osmond rolled back time, if not for himself, perhaps, maybe for the 2,600 women in the crowd who wailed, twitched, and whistled their hearts out. Who needs the King of Pop? ◼