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REVIEW: The Osmonds, a New Musical

The Osmonds at The Everymnan Theatre in Cheltenham

The Osmonds, a New Musical
Story by Jay Osmond
Book by Julian Bigg and Shaun Kerrison

The Everyman Theatre, Cheltenham
Tuesday, 8 March 2022

Rating: ★★★★☆

It’s the 13th of July 1972.  As a treat, nine-year-old Paul is allowed to eat his bedtime bowl of Ricicles in front of Top of the Pops.  He’s disappointed by Terry Dactyl and the Dinosaurs’ “Seaside Shuffle”, which has nothing to interest the junior palaeontologist.  He’s intrigued by the lyric to Hawkwind’s “Silver Machine”: how can something fly sideways through time?  And he’s overwhelmed by Donny Osmond’s “Puppy Love”, which he thinks is the most beautiful song he’s ever heard.

Donny looks like a young god.  He’s gorgeous, girlish, and as wholesome as a bowl of All Bran.  Puppy Paul feels confused.  Why are Donny’s teeth so white and straight?  Does he brush them more than once a day?  Why is Donny’s hair so glossy and dandruff-free?  Does he shampoo with Vosene or (like Paul) Fairy Liquid?  Donny’s a boy, so why is he so gentle, so feminine?  Paul’s friends are macho little thugs.  What is this strange feeling inside Paul’s tummy?  It isn’t Ricicles, that’s for sure.  Could this puppy be … in love?

Yes, gentle reader, your reviewer’s first crush was Donny Osmond.  And I’m pretty confident that Donny – or Alan, Wayne, Merrill, Jay, Jimmy, or Marie – was the first infatuation of nearly every member of the (middle-aged) audience at the first night of the Osmonds musical.  Appealing to young people’s romantic urges was crucial to the marketing strategy for the Osmonds.  Indeed, they were actively discouraged from marrying: it was thought that the existence of a spouse would be commercially disastrous, because it would scupper the fans’ fantasies of marrying an Osmond.

The Osmonds’ success was also based on talent, hard work and versatility.  Besides being multi-instrumentalists, vocalists and dancers, they embraced a variety of musical styles.  From performing barbershop pieces on the Andy Williams TV show, they branched into Jackson-Five-style pop (“One Bad Apple”), R&B (“Yo-Yo”), rock ‘n’ roll (“Down By the Lazy River”), hard rock (“Crazy Horses”) and gentle ballads (“Love Me For a Reason”).  Individuals diversified further, with Little Jimmy singing annoying earworm “Long-Haired Lover From Liverpool”, Marie taking the country road (“Paper Roses”) and Donny resuscitating golden oldies (“The Twelfth of Never” – a disappointing omission from the show).

Based on Jay’s true story – he told me it had taken five years to write – this jukebox musical is a “living autobiography”.  It charts the ups, downs, and up-agains of Jay’s career as a member of one of the most successful pop groups ever.  His personal dilemma – individuality versus loyalty to family – is is encapsulated in his character’s comment: “I don’t want to be an Osmond.  I want to be Jay Osmond!”

After a flat opening to the show – a procession of showbiz successes that leaves us gagging for something bad to happen – things spark into dramatic life when the Osmonds’ strict patriarch, George, forbids young Merrill to marry.  Our interest is further piqued when Donny and Marie outstrip their siblings, who are relegated to the status of a backing band.  Most compelling of all is when the Osmonds lose almost everything they have ever earned.  Ultimately, the family’s tribal loyalty sustains them, and we learn the true significance of one of their early barbershop numbers: the Osmonds do everything “Side By Side”.

The show culminates in celebratory fashion, at their 2008 reunion concert.  In a touching scene set before the gig, life-long fan Wendy (now a middle-aged mum) finally meets Jay and asks for his autograph.  In that tender moment, the real Jay embraces all the real Wendys in the audience.  I must have had something in my eye.

The cast and musicians are all excellent.  Special credit goes to the brilliant young performers who play the Osmonds as children.  The singing and dancing are sharp, and the backing band is loud and tight.  To be frank, the soundtrack is slightly patchy, with some unremarkable rock ‘n’ roll fillers keeping the audience firmly in their seats.  There are some iffy wigs and some unconvincing miming, but these are outweighed by the glorious moments.  A frisson ran through the audience when the band struck up the intro to “Puppy Love”, and some Wendys in the stalls waved light-sticks.  A touching rendition of “He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother” brought a lump to my throat.  Best of all was “Crazy Horses”, when the band let rip.  It could only have been improved by turning the volume up to eleven.

Live music’s magical, isn’t it?  It lets you time-travel.  By the end of the evening, we’d forgotten all our disappointments, worries, failed relationships, diagnoses, underpaid jobs, annoying neighbours, neglectful friends, beer guts, moobs, irritable bowels, muffin-tops, cirrhotic livers, sponging relatives and unappreciative bosses – all the things that life had chucked at us since we were young.  The years had collapsed.  We were kids again, life was full of possibility, and we were in love – puppy love.  One of us could taste Ricicles.

Running time: 2 hours 45 minutes (including interval)
The Osmonds, a New Musical runs at the Everyman Theatre, Cheltenham, until Saturday 12 March 2022.

Reviewer: Paul Sharples
Explore Gloucestershire
9 March 2022

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