Wednesday, April 13, 2022

The Osmonds: A New Musical – uncovering the family dynamic behind the sibling songsters (Grand Opera House until Saturday 16 April)

The Osmonds: A New Musical is a toe-tapping piece of nostalgic entertainment, telling the story of the rise and fall – and breaking even – of the “Mormon von Trapp” family singers from Utah.

Retold from the perspective of narrator Jay Osmond (played by Alex Lodge), the sixth son of George (Charlie Allen) and Olive (Nicola Bryan – a Kit Kat girl in Bruiser’s Cabaret in the MAC), we witness as the young children growing up in a mixture of military discipline and showbiz fervour. The original barbershop line-up of Alan (Jamie Chatterton), Wayne (Danny Nattrass), Merrill (Ryan Anderson) and Jay were soon joined by Donny (Joseph Peacock), then sister Marie (Georgia Lennon – no stranger to Grand Opera House pantomimes) and young Jimmy, supported by older siblings Virl and Tom.

If you’re of a certain age then you’ll be like the two women sitting immediately behind me, belting out the lyrics. Surprisingly, the song that was accompanied with most gusto across the auditorium was Marie Osmond’s country hit, Paper Roses. I wonder if that’s a sign of Northern Ireland’s love of country and western, or whether the same pattern occurs right across the UK tour?

Lucy Osbourne’s set is inspired by vinyl records and TV screens, though the top half of the back wall of the set does strangely look like it’s been fashioned out of black plastic bin liners. The wigs used throughout the show may well require a whole lorry to move them between venues! A team of six touring children step on stage at key moments to remind the audience just how young and talented the performers were when they started out in the music business.

The first act is long. After the interval, the show reboots with a medley of crowd-pleasing melodies – Puppy Love gets the vocal cords quivering – building up to the musical’s most dramatic moment as the family’s financial success collapses in the wake of poor decision-making and shifting audience tastes.

Between Jay Osmond, musical supervisor Julian Bigg and director Shaun Kerrison – the creative team behind the show – a lot of real life backstory has been crammed into this production, making it much more than a simple jukebox musical.

Early on, the guiding principles of “faith, family and career” (allegedly in that order) is established, yet there is an honesty in recognising that the parents were persuaded to bend their perspectives or at least cross their fingers and look the other way as the Osmond children were steered into more popular rock’n’roll themes and marketing that relied on screaming fans with posters up on bedroom walls to buy records. Yet, in this musical biography, Jay Osmond argues that those same three principles ultimately kept the family afloat and out of bankruptcy when their luck turned.

A mention of Top of the Pops and the fan letters of Wendy (Katy Hards) from Manchester give the show a grounding on this side of the Atlantic. The fan storyline together with the enduring pain of Merrill’s desire for love and marriage outside the constraints of the band pay off emotionally.

The performance of Love Me For A Reason gets under the skin of both those who remember the Osmond’s 1974 hit and those who caught the earworm from the carbon copy Boyzone cover some 20 years later. While most likely never the intention of the writers and director, the vocal highlight of the show for me was the beautiful ensemble rendition of I’ll Be Home For Christmas!

It may be down to first night teething problems, at times some moments of dialogue were quite indistinct behind the background sound of the band, and some brothers cut through the singing mix much more than the others. Vocally, Lodge (Jay), Anderson (Merrill – beautifully soulful, yet also a great screamer), Peacock (Donny) and Lennon (Marie) turn in the strongest performances across the two hour forty minute show.

The hummable jukebox documentary The Osmonds: A New Musical continues in the Grand Opera House until Saturday 16 April.

Photo credit: Pamela Raith

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