The Osmonds: A New Musical

September 21, 2022 | By | Reply More

★★★★☆   I hear music

Festival Theatre: Tue 20 – Sat 24 Sept 2022
Review by Thom Dibdin

They were holding up their Osmond fan club scarves and singing along in the front row of the Festival Theatre on opening night of The Osmonds: A New Musical. It’s that sort of show.

This is part greatest hits tribute gig, part Osmond family history and – when one of the brothers sits down to reflect on their angst and lets a soulful number do the heavy emotional lifting – part juke-box musical. But there is always (well, nearly always), an Osmond out front.

A scene from The Osmonds: A New Musical. Pic: Pamela Raith Photography

So, what of this great big smorgasbord of Osmond hits? A collection which goes from wee laddie barbershop numbers like Side by Side to Jimmy solos like Long Haired Lover from Liverpool (cue the scarves) to the full-blown Osmond family going Crazy Horses

For the Osmond fan, this is five star, guilt-free, nostalgia gold. Thirty hits and forgotten treats given a new life – plus a scene-setting Andy Williams (Alex Cardall) rendition of Music to Watch Girls By – together with a tasty amount of authorised history thrown in for good luck.

For the more casual observer and maybe those who purchased Osmond product in their early teens, before discovering how deadly uncool the band were, there is plenty to appreciate in a well structured piece of musical theatre, thanks to Julian Bigg and Shaun Kerrison taking on book-writing duties of the story as written by Jay Osmond.

chart the family history

The whole piece is narrated by Jay, played by Alex Lodge, who steps out of the action after an introductory One Way Ticket to Anywhere. He charts the family history from an ad-hoc performance at Disney World, through their five year deal with the Andy Williams Show, and on to a record deal with MGM.

Those early years feature a fabulous sextet of youngsters as Alan, Wayne, Merrill, Jay and, later, Donny and little Jimmy. Over them presides their father, George, an ex-military man who has them up at 4.30am and who will not broker any failure. In his world; you keep going until you succeed.

Little surprise they became known as the one-take Osmonds. George, as performed by Charlie Allen, is a forceful but largely benign presence with Nicola Bryan all mother hen as his wife, Olive. But you still wouldn’t want to cross him. No wonder they boys all salute him and call him “sir’.

A scene from The Osmonds: A New Musical. Pic: Pamela Raith Photography

The strong upward curve of the first half continues as the adult cast take over for the successes of the early Seventies, the world tours to screaming fans and the move into a more rock’n’roll-based sound – to George’s distaste.

With their toothy grins flashed up to ten, it might be hard to differentiate Merrill (Ryan Anderson), Alan (Jamie Chatterton), Jay and Wayne (Danny Nattrass) if they weren’t colour coordinated. Only Joseph Peacock as the goofy Donny really stands out. But they all have the necessary vocal chops and tightly choreographed moves.

Georgia Lennon as Marie puts in some great numbers, with Paper Roses the standout it should be. Her character is somewhat overlooked however, even though Marie was key to the family’s later successes.

continuity

Every now and then Sophie Hurst steps out of the ensemble as “Wendy from Manchester” – Jay’s “number one fan”, who provides a continuity of sorts. Her letters, evolving as she grows older, create an awareness of a role which superstars play to their fans that goes beyond pinup to something more confessional.

All the ensemble members get their turn as a character on the Osmonds’ road to fame. The way they ease into character and back into the background ensemble is a joy to watch.

A scene from The Osmonds: A New Musical. Pic: Pamela Raith Photography

All that joy needs a rebound. Which comes in the second act, with the family’s misguided sinking of half of all their earned profits into a film studio back home in Utah. A project which brought the family close to bankruptcy and the otherwise perfect brothers close to a punch-up. Fortunately George was on hand to command that neither take place.

Director Shaun Kerrison drives the rise with brio and decline with great clarity, allowing glimpses of the concerns of the different brothers. Shown both by their elder selves and with revealing flashbacks to their younger selves in individual conversations they had with George.

These conversations add much needed depth and, as a whole, reveal a little more of the tribulations of the family than might be intended, both by what is said and what is omitted. Their faith, for example, while often referenced as being of prime importance (followed by family and career), gets little other mention.

near perfect framing

Impeccable sound design from Dan Samson, balancing MD Will Joy’s tight live band with on stage vocals; clever choreography and musical staging from Bill Deamer; with a clean set (Lucy Osborne) and lighting (Ben Cracknell) combine to provide a near perfect framing for the music.

And be assured, whatever the distractions of a family life lived on camera which in later years might seem like a particularly anodyne lost version of the Great American Dream, it is still the music which shines through.

Running time: Two hours and 45 minutes (including one interval)
Festival Theatre, 13/29 Nicolson Street EH8 9FT.
Tue 20 – Sat 24 September 2022
Evenings: 7.30pm; Wed, Thurs, Sat Mats: 2.30pm.
Tickets and details: Book here.

A scene from The Osmonds: A New Musical. Pic: Pamela Raith Photography

ENDS

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