By Conor O’Neill
Before tonight all I knew about the Osmonds was great teeth, Donny and Marie and Puppy Love. After that, in my mind they were nothing more than saccharine pop candy from years ago.
Well, did I get an education. The Grand Opera House is packed, 1040 people with smiles on their faces, every show gets its dedicated following, and tonight is ladies night. Looking left to right, from the stalls to the Gods, oestrogen everywhere; just the odd token male probably dragged along by his better half for a night of nostalgia.
Naturally, I fear the worst. But the curtain rises and my worries are allayed.
I’m not sure if there has been an earlier Osmonds’ musical, but the production is tag-lined By Jay Osmond. And Jay is our narrator and focal point for the evening. Actor Alex Lodge is intense from the start, and so he should be; being an Osmond at the height of their fame was a 24/7 life. And perhaps life is the wrong word. Under Father George’s (Charlie Allen) strict tutelage, the original four, and in fact the other four who rose to fame later, were groomed to be stars. 430am wake-ups and a gruelling routine were failure is not an option in the strict Christian household. “Faith, family and career” is the oft spoken mantra of the entire Osmond troop.
Born in Utah the Osmonds soon blag their way to an audition for the Andy Williams TV show, and that’s when even more pressure is heaped upon the four.
It’s the early life that’s a revelation of the show. I’m pretty sure not a lot of the adoring fans here are aware of just how hard these kids were pushed and how hard they worked to achieve global fame. Individuality is not held high in George’s world. And so as the boys get older and Donnie (Joseph Peacock) and Marie (Georgia Lennon) come to the fore tensions are bound to rise.
Artistic differences – yes, the Osmonds are real musicians – towing the party line and the search for identity carves a touch of a morality tale through this piece of musical theatre. Many musicals based on a star band or performer are usually vehicles to push songs onto an audience with some loosely fact based plot moving from tune to tune, The Osmonds: A New Musical is beyond that. Jay’s story is both interesting and reflective.
Of course there’s the songs. I never knew they’d have so many I’d recognise so many: Music To Watch Girls Go By, Long Haired Lover From Liverpool, Paper Roses, It Takes Two and another few have been covered by umpteen artists since the 60s and 70s of their monstrous fame.
The live band, I think they are just a four piece, are tone and beat perfect. I would have liked to see more of them but with so many characters plus the ensemble on stage I guess director Shaun Kerrison had to try and keep the focus on the tale itself.
As to be expected from touring West End production everything from hair and make-up, to lighting, set design, and costume are top notch. Special praise must go out to choreographer Bill Deamer; not a foot wrong and every move and routine slick and delivered with grace.
All good indeed, but I have one, just the one thing that irks me about this show: at one hour and 10 minutes per act, it is a tad long. Yes, it deals with 60 years of stardom, rise and fall but some of the scenes could have seen the editor’s blue pen.
But I’m obviously in the tiny minority: the faithful love it and were still clapping as I made my exit.
If you fancy a bit of pop nostalgia topped with a good narrative, then The Osmonds: A New Musical is the show for you.
It runs at the Grand Opera House up to and including Saturday April 16. Matinees are on the Thursday and Saturday.
For booking information visit http://www.goh.co.uk or simply phone the box office on 02890 241919