On first hearing there’s a musical about the Osmonds you’d be forgiven for thinking that, surely, it’s already been done. But despite many examples of the genre from Buddy (Holly) to Jersey Boys, and others too numerous to mention, somehow the Osmonds escaped attention.
What we learn from this show is how they went to great lengths to control their own careers, albeit not always successfully. It seems likely, then, the reason their story hasn’t been translated into a musical until now is because they didn’t allow it. And prominent in the publicity for the show (and even on the front cloth) is the byline ‘Story by Jay Osmond’. So we know from the off that we’re seeing a version of history through the lens of someone who has spent most of their life building and defending the Osmond brand.
There is, possibly, another reason why the Osmond story hasn’t been seized upon for the musical treatment. Putting it bluntly, despite their prodigious output, their back catalogue is not exactly over-stuffed with crowd pleasing classic hits that are lodged in the minds of anyone other than ardent fans. Obviously we get Love Me for a Reason, Puppy Love and the dubious charms of Long Haired Lover from Liverpool. But we also have Traffic in My Mind, Utah and Rainin’ – which for me don’t provoke the same response. And in a show which pretty much marches chronologically forward through their story, their biggest hit is glossed over with just a mention and doesn’t make itself heard until the bows.
Despite this, though, the show has great charm, warmth and, above all, pace. The story is told simply and without gimmicks. Jay Osmond (Alex Lodge) is our reliable narrator and, with a few exceptions, it’s ‘tell’ rather than ‘show’ as Jay conveys the family’s progress from singing for their deaf older brothers, via a meeting with Walt Disney to their big break with regular appearances on the Andy Williams Show. Eschewing dramatisation of incidents, the show illustrates career milestones with song after song. Ryan Anderson, Jamie Chatterton, Danny Nattrass and Joseph Peacock do a terrific job as Merrill, Alan, Wayne and Donny alongside Alex Lodge’s Jay. Nattrass may have been a source of useful Osmond insight as I see from his programme biog that he appeared in last year’s Palladium panto, which starred one Donny Osmond.
In the early days, though, we are treated to young versions of the boys who were just great, with some particularly effective close harmony work from the press night team of Herbie Byers, Jayden Harris, brothers Austin and Miles Redwood and Dexter Seaton. The icing on the junior cake was Austin Riley’s totally convincing rendition of Jimmy Osmond’s Long Haired Lover hit.
I also liked Georgia Lennon as Marie Osmond, who has a beautiful voice. The one fictional device employed in telling the story is the use of a lifelong fan who signs herself ‘Wendy from Manchester’, when she writes regular fan letters to Jay. This results in an unexpectedly poignant moment near the end of the show thanks in large part to Sophie Hirst’s sympathetic portrayal of what could easily have been a forgettable part.
The staging is effective with a flexible single-set design minimising the need for cast or crew to move bits of furniture or scenery about. The rainbow of colours stretching from the backdrop and running across the stage could have looked a little too swinging sixties, but somehow works throughout the show. Perhaps it’s also deliberately reminding us of Donny’s time playing the title role in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat!
The Osmonds is at the Orchard Theatre, Dartford until Saturday 19 November 2022 and then continues on tour.