The Osmonds: A New Musical
Story by Jay Osmond, book by Julian Bigg and Shaun Kerrison, additional material by Bosse Andersson and Anders Albien, songs by The Osmonds and others
Royo Twins Entertainment , Vicky Nojesproduction, Krall Entertainment, Aria Entertainment and Guy James Theatrical
Palace Theatre, Manchester
The music industry is fertile ground for dramatic true-life stories. Tales of rags to riches and back again abound with talented young people succumbing to fickle fame and fortune. With The Osmonds, however, such rollercoaster highs and lows are avoided. In life, as in their art, the family stay middle of the road.
In an effort to raise funds for hearing aids for older siblings, the Osmond brothers, organised by their formidable father George (Charlie Allen), form a barbershop quartet. After initial rejection, the group finds fame as guest stars on a TV show hosted by family entertainer Andy Williams (Alex Cardall). This is both a blessing and a curse—giving the brothers much needed finance but pigeonholing them as light entertainers despite their considerable skills as multi-instrumentalists, each capable of singing lead and harmony vocals. The Osmonds become a phenomenal success, but the decision to divide the family into different units and move into production risks losing everything they have achieved, including the right to use the family name.
The story for The Osmonds: A New Musical comes from brother Jay Osmond. Inevitably, therefore, his on-stage avatar Alex Lodge serves as narrator / conscience for the show. Having such authentic input is both a strength and weakness for the show. There is a depth of understanding for the father George, who comes across as a disciplinarian, even a puritan, but stops short at being a monster like the father of Michael Jackson or Brian Wilson. "We were the Mormon von Trapps," sighs Jay.
The script is densely detailed, running for almost three hours, but not especially interesting. The anecdotes tend to be of the ‘gosh-wow and then we met’ variety rather than anything salacious or amusing. The drama in the show is more soap opera level than tragedy, with the brothers falling out over management decisions rather than more interesting personal issues. Jay threatening to quit the group to attend university isn’t on an emotional par with, say, marrying Yoko Ono or Meghan Markle. Significantly, the most interesting feature about the brothers—their Mormon faith—is barely mentioned and its impact is not assessed. The staple of rock ’n’ roll—drugs—is avoided and sex is right out of the question; Merrill (Ryan Anderson) is tormented by being denied permission to wed.
The Osmonds: A New Musical does not cut corners or cheat fans. Every aspect of the group’s evolution is represented with the younger versions of the brothers (played on opening night by Osian Salter, Jack Jones, Alfie Jones, Harrison Skinner, Tom Walsh and Fraser Fowkes) making strong vocal contributions and representing the hopes and disappointments of the family. Possibly the most effective emotional moment is a picture-perfect family Christmas that, at an off-stage cry from the director, turns out to be fake.
Unlike most jukebox musicals, where the songs are tweaked for storytelling purposes, in The Osmonds: A New Musical they are sung in crowd-pleasing concert format. This gives Lucy Osborne the chance to show the passage of time with some eye-bleedingly gaudy costumes from the 1970s. Likewise, Bill Deamer’s choreography has some wincingly authentic dance routines.
The Osmonds: A New Musical is categorised as a jukebox musical, but in Manchester at least, where author Jay Osmond joins the cast for the encore, it is more of a wish fulfilment. The audience is full of women old enough to know better who have come equipped with scarfs and are just waiting for the chance to wave them, dance in the aisles and chant "we want The Osmonds". Standing ovations break out throughout the show, often when Joseph Peacock (as Donny Osmond) takes the lead.
The Osmonds are the prototype for any number of plastic boy bands which followed. The Osmonds: A New Musical makes clear, however, the brothers’ musical talents and concern for their fans which often seems to be lacking in their imitators and this sincerity is definitely a feature of the musical.
Reviewer: David Cunningham