Book: Shaun Kerrison and Julian Bigg
Director: Shaun Kerrison
Famous for their clean-cut image, perfect teeth and let’s be honest, impeccable harmonies, The Osmonds sold more than 100 million records worldwide. The musical, based on a story by Jay Osmond and with a book by Julian Bigg and Shaun Kerrison, bursts onto the stage in a big way.
Jay (Alex Lodge) takes the role of narrator, unsurprisingly as it is based on his book. The narrative deals with two worlds: their private lives, including resentment, anger and bad business deals; and the harmonious and glossy showbiz aspect of their lives which was squeaky clean and drama free. Naturally, and understandably this is told in a way that is sympathetic to The Osmonds as a family, often giving glimpses of darker moments but always stopping short of apportioning blame or criticism to any individual outright.
This show is pacey thanks to some tight direction by Paul Kerrison, but it feels veneered – it barely scratches the surface of what went on backstage. There are some well-staged and frankly riveting glimpses of their backstory, usually in the format of a flashback, involving the exceptional child cast. But we never quite get to deep dive into the behind the scenes arena in the way we would like to.
George Osmond’s (Charlie Allen) drill sergeant cum Captain Von Trapp treatment of the children, forcing them to be up and out of bed to practice at 4.40 am and to ‘smile to ten’ hints at a highly disciplined, yet somewhat tragically controlled childhood. One phrase really punches through, it doesn’t matter who is upfront, as long as it’s an Osmond. This mantra is repeated multiple times throughout, but only toward the end do we see the toll that this must have taken on them as a family.
Of course, the show is about the story of the family themselves and as such the delivery of the narrative is a team effort. On press night in addition to Lodge’s Jay, the adult cast was played by Alex Cardall (Alan), Tristan Whincup (Donny), Ryan Anderson (Merrill), and Danny Nattrass (Wayne). As a five-piece, these performers are exquisite. Each is a triple threat performer and together they form a powerhouse, of dreamy harmonies and crisp syncopated dance routines, executing Bill Deamer’s bubble gum choreography with precision. There is excellent chemistry between all five of them and each has moments of outstanding individual performance peppered throughout the show. Together these boys deliver a flawless performance as one perfectly manufactured organism. The same can be said for the young cast Joey Unitt (Merrill), Charlie Stripp (Alan), Charlie Tumbridge (Jay), Thomas Ryan (Wayne), Nicholas Teixeira (Donny) and Harrison Skinner (Jimmy).
A particular highlight comes in the first act when the five brothers don their spangled black jumpsuits and belt out Yo-Yo. Of course, to a modern audience, this scene, and indeed the musical overall, has more cheese than you would find at a dairy farm, but it is infectious and ultimately any audience will succumb.
Despite their tender age, the child performers also give an incredibly slick performance. The harmonies in the barbershop quartet segments are angelic, coupled with emotionally driven scenes played with Allen’s George Osmond. These boys shine, showing an emotional maturity beyond their young years. No doubt, each of these boys will go on to dominate the West End stage in years to come.
Aesthetically, the show is vibrant, a technicolor journey of pure escapism. Lucy Osbourne’s set is striking, framing the stage with a series of diminishing TV screens beautifully metaphorizing their rise and eventual fall from the dizzying heights of fame that they achieved as children. The colour scheme is psychedelic and mirrors the slick marketing of their early days, with each brother represented by a different colour. Indeed, the choreography, costume and overall vibe of this musical is a perfectly preserved time capsule. It does exactly what it says on the tin, two hours of total escapism in the form of clean-cut 1970s family-friendly entertainment. Die-hard Osmonds fans will be pleased to know that most of the back catalogue is indeed included within the show – that being said, the first act could have done with at least one of the big hits.
While this is a glitzy production that is jam-packed with talented young performers, it can be a little content-heavy at times, but with a story like this, how can it not be?
In a market flooded with jukebox musicals, this one is perhaps a little tame but it does provide a thoroughly joyful night out. The final scene is a glorious celebration, bringing what is truly an incredible story to a close, with the audience on their feet and dancing in the aisles. It is camp as Christmas and it knows it: the cast is clearly having the time of their lives – and it is catching.
Runs Until 7 May 2022 and on tour