There is a continually growing trend bringing Jukebox musicals to the stage in Regional Theatres and the West End with the fabulous Jersey Boys still leading the way at the Trafalgar Theatre in London alongside the Drifters Girl, Get up Stand up, and Tina. Out on the regional road are Thriller, Beautiful, We Will Rock You and very soon, The Cher Show, together with a host of tribute band acts. They work because the Artists featured have a catalogue of hits and a loyal following of fans with memories of their music interweaved with the nostalgia of their youth. Occasionally we get insight into the artist’s back story but mainly it’s a celebration of their musical legacy.
The Osmonds is riding this wave of recognition and nostalgia and is presented as a new musical with a story by Jay Osmond (the drummer in the group who he says was always stuck in the middle). For a short period from 1972 to 1974 members of the Osmond family had UK number 1 hits and Osmondmania hit the streets and concert halls of the country although the family members had been performing in the US from 1963 and would continue to perform together until the Eighties. The story is told through two simple overused devices of Jay Osmond (Alex Lodge) narrating the back story of the family relationships and development as artists and their “Number 1” UK fan, Wendy, (Katy Hands) reading her letters to him giving the fans perspective. While it fills in the gaps it lacks drama even as it describes the draconian relationship the boys had with their father (Charlie Allen).
Only when they act out the family tensions in two key scenes in Act 2 do we really start to engage with the characters as real people rather than the cardboard cut-outs characterisations they bring on to describe The Osmond’s cartoon series. In the first we see Donny (Joseph Peacock) struggling to record a new song watched by his family until Marie (Georgia Lennon) steps forward and together they create the duet “I’m leaving it all up to you” which became a big hit and launched their double act career on TV. The second more powerful scene is set in January 1980 when the family tensions which have been bubbling long below the surface burst out when Alan (Jamie Chatterton) and Merill (Ryan Anderson) explain that the development of The Osmond Studios in Utah and the cancellation of the Donny and Marie TV show has left them bankrupt. From this point, the show finally takes off and the values that have driven them of Faith Family and Career have meaning and explain everything we know about them and their commitment to each other.
It is then we finally get the rousing reception we expect with “Love me for a reason” (the 1974 number 1) and Crazy Horses (the 1972 rock and roll number 1) getting the adoring fans (now in their sixties) in the audience swaying and singing along. On this night in Woking (as I suspect in many venues so far on this tour) Jay Osmond, who was watching from the circle, left the auditorium and almost stopped the show as the fans cheered applauded and expressed their long-held love for him! The Osmonds (with Danny Nattras as Wayne making up the four original members) deliver with plenty of energy and enthusiasm recreating the moves without ever really doing an impression of the originals.
It is a pity that Director and co-writer Shaun Kerrison could not have got more dramatic recreations into the first Act. Instead, he relies too heavily on the curtsey troop of young lads to play the younger versions of the brothers as first a barbershop quartet, then regular stars on The Andy Williams Show as they grow up on TV. The young performers do very well with Donny (on this night played by Osian Salter) singing “You are my sunshine” as a five-year-old and Jimmy (Fraser Fowkes) delivering the 1972 UK Hit “I am a long-haired lover from Liverpool” as a nine-year-old on Top of the Pops. Although it is Marie singing the country and western song “Paper Roses” that comes closest to creating a real sense of the personalities that audiences fell for in the seventies. That magical stage presence that Jimmy Osmond showed as Hook in Peter Pan in Birmingham in 2018 and Donny showed at the Palladium in December 2021 is hard to recreate but was what gave this family the fan base and reputation they still trade on. When Donny sings “Puppy Love”, the 1972 hit, for a moment we are taken back to that era as he engages the front row of ladies reaching up towards him in a poignant echo of the past.
This is an enjoyable fun night out, another perfect antidote to the dreadful news feed we daily listen to. It is a hark back to a simpler time before social media and multiple TV feeds when a poster on a bedroom wall was enough to make us feel we knew someone, not a constant diet of images and posts from celebrities. It makes you wonder whether the current music scene will have the longevity of the artists of the sixties and seventies, I suppose some will as today’s youth grow up. But this show will appeal to those who remember those eras with deep affection and less so to a new generation who have no recall of the music. To reach out to them these Jukebox shows need to have a deeper catalogue, higher production values, and more dramatic presentation so they rely less on the memories of the audience and more on proper dramatic storytelling that engages the new audience emotionally.
But for this Woking audience, none of that mattered. Jay Osmond was in the house; his story was on the stage and the music of The Osmonds (and of the audience’s youth) was filling the venue and that was what they wanted to hear.
Review by Nick Wayne
Seat: Row J, Stalls | Price of Ticket: £30.00