Book: Shaun Kerrison and Julian Bigg
Director: Shaun Kerrison
The Osmonds seem to have been largely consigned to history. At the height of their powers, they had more chart success than The Beatles and, as a result of facing thousands of screaming girls in Osmondmania, they were louder than Led Zeppelin, but now their records hardly trouble the playlists of the multitude of oldie or easy listening radio stations. This musical, with a story by Jay Osmond, tells the story of the band of brothers – and, later, a sister – how they were moulded into global superstars, and how the individuals coped with that at very young ages.
In the opening number, One Way Ticket to Anywhere, we see the boys in concert singing in harmony and dancing a tightly choreographed and very 1970’s dance routine. There’s glitter and sparkle, bright lights and adulation, but it’s clear that all is not right behind the scenes as Jay wants out. And, on press night at least, unlike the costumes, the performance of this opening song is a little lacklustre, even hesitant. However, the singing quickly becomes stronger and we are transported back to the days of Osmondmania.
The Osmond family is a tight-knit unit, so when the first two boys, born with hearing difficulties, need new hearing aids, their younger siblings – Alan, Wayne, Merrill and Jay – sing barbershop to earn cash. A combination of persistence and luck sees the boys gaining a residency on the Andy Williams Show where they hone the skills they will need as performers. They rise to fame in the 1970s, with brothers Donny and Jimmy and sister Marie also joining the franchise. Throughout, they are guided by their father, George, a strict disciplinarian who runs the household like a military operation, rousing the boys for reveille and debrief daily. From an early age, the family live by his principles: first, Faith, then Family, finally Career. That’s supplemented by the mantra, ‘It doesn’t matter who’s out front – as long as it’s an Osmond’, a mantra that will occasionally lead to friction. And then, almost inevitably, an ill-judged scheme fails and they find themselves touring to pay off debts: and while family members never actually stop singing, the good times are now largely past and the treadmill of continuous touring and the pressure of making new music and being successful takes its toll.
The sure hand of Director, Shaun Kerrison, ensures the plot moves quickly and smoothly. Jay (Alex Lodge) is ever-present onstage acting as narrator as we see vignettes from the boys’ pasts that illustrate just why they are as they are. Lodge provides us with insight into the highs and lows of life in such a potentially claustrophobic situation. It’s he who we see rebel against the leadership of his older brothers to leave the band and go to college. Charlie Allen brings us patriarch George Osmond. We ultimately learn just what it is in his past that drives him to bring the boys up in such a regimented manner. Allen carries himself with a suitably stiff military bearing, though he also, just occasionally, lets us see the proud father inside. Nicola Bryan is the Osmonds’ mother, Olive. She brings a softness to proceedings acting as confidante to the boys. Ryan Anderson’s Merrill Osmond also rebels early, as he is desperate to marry his sweetheart, Mary. Anderson shows us Merrill’s pain as he feels obliged to continue touring without the woman he loves.
But, while the storyline is interesting, it plays second fiddle to the songs, and all the big Osmond songs are here. The group all have fine voices with Paper Roses from Marie (Georgia Lennon) showcasing the power of her voice well and Let Me In acting as a powerful Act I closer.
Overall, it’s good fun. The storytelling is good and the musical numbers well-produced, filling the theatre with sound and light. While diehard Osmond fans will love the peek behind the scenes that the show provides alongside the music, we can all enjoy a feel-good night out with The Osmonds.
Runs Until 19 March 2022 and on tour