SLADE, Marc Bolan & T. Rex, David Bowie, Sweet, er, Gary Glitter, Gilbert O’Sullivan, even David Cassidy, who shared a birthday, were early Seventies’ favourites in the Hutch household.
The Osmonds, however, were not, save for the somewhat bizarre presence of nine-year-old Little Jimmy’s excitable Long Haired Lover From Liverpool in 11-year-old Hutch’s Christmas stocking in 1972. Today it would pass as a guilty pleasure. Back then, well, the Osmonds were everywhere. Osmondmania, as it was called.
“We want The Osmonds,” went the chant. “We want The Osmonds”. Ah, but do we still want The Osmonds? On the evidence of Tuesday night’s audience, there are plenty who still do: mainly women of a certain age who were taken back to all their yesterdays, whether waving Osmonds flags rescued from the attic or hearts a’flutter anew when Joseph Peacock donned Donny’s trademark peaked cap for Puppy Love.
This was the moment when this show truly took off: just like when young brother Donny first became the number one pin-up. And they still call it puppy love on August 2 2022.
The Osmonds: A New Musical is the Osmonds’ story, or rather it is Jay Osmond’s story, filtered from his 2010 autobiography, Stages, now on stage as the family drama from the family drummer. Jay, played so handsomely by Alex Lodge, is the narrator, the guide, through the lives of the American boy band from Ogden, Utah, from their milk-teeth days singing barbershop on The Andy Williams Show (days when Jay once sat on Walt Disney’s knee).
Faith, first, then family, then career, was the motto of these clean-cut, clean-living boys, as espoused by their disciplinarian father George (Charlie Allen), who controlled the Mormon family music-making operation with military precision. The boys called him sir, saluted him, showed respect at all times, to everyone, just like Elvis did in all his early black-and-white interviews.
Faith, first. Well, ‘Mormon’ was name-checked only once; the ‘Church of Latter-day Saints’ not at all, but there were references to “mission” and “faith”. This was a polite, respectful musical, one that showed the influence of their faith without hammering home their Mormon roots.
Father George Osmond, who wears the same suit throughout to emphasise his unchanging ways, imposes his will. Mother Olive (Nicola Bryan) is more comforting, a listening ear, but she too preaches the collective good, the cause of faith and family.
What Julian Bigg and director Shaun Kerrison’s book for this Osmond celebration does do is show what made The Osmonds unique: a family boy band, who all could sing lead vocals, play any number of instruments, grew into writing their own songs, and kept adding new members, from Donny to country-loving sister Marie (Georgia Lennon) and, yes, Little Jimmy (Austin Riley) with his five-week chart topper.
It doesn’t matter who is singing the lead vocal, as long as it is an Osmond, was the other family motto, but as with all bands, gradually individual needs percolate through the shiny surface. Merrill (Ryan Anderson) starts to struggle with his mental health; Jay talks of always being stuck in the middle, the drummer holding things together from the back; Wayne (Danny Nattrass) tends to be the one in the back seat until darkness consumes him.
The brothers, suddenly expected to be Donny’s backing band and to play second fiddle on the Donny & Marie TV shows, deem his hit songs to be lightweight froth.
Alan (Jamie Chatterton), picked by his father to be the leader, takes that to the point – in tandem with Merrill – of plunging the family into financial crisis with one disastrous business decision.
Jay’s story and Bigg and Kerrison’s stage adaptation achieve the right balance of nostalgia and exhilaration, knowing humour and candour, full of concert, TV studio and recording session detail, topped off by an off-stage vocal cameo by Elvis Presley, offering the brothers advice on their next step and fashion tips. Letters sent to Jay by Wendy (Katy Hards), his number one fan from Manchester, weave a British thread through the story to amusing effect.
If this feels a clean-cut version, then this is the one band for whom that is entirely warranted. This is not a story of sex and drugs and rock’n’roll, unlike the jukebox musicals for Marc Bolan, The Kinks and The Small Faces that have passed through York previously.
It is, instead, a story of many highs, an almighty crash, and a reunion resurrection in the 2008 finale. The hits keep coming, first with the cutesy children’s cast with their immaculate harmonies and matching attire, then One Bad Apple, Let Me In, Marie’s Paper Roses, et al.
Songs feed into and off the story, especially for Merrill and Wayne’s frustrations; Lodge’s Jay breaks down theatre’s fourth wall with rosy charm, and the principals’ performances grow as the story progresses. Knock-out singers, good movers, equally adept in their dialogue, they honour the Osmonds to the max. As do Lucy Osborne’s set design, Bill Deamer’s snappy choreography, Sam Cox’s wigs, hair and make-up design, the ensemble cast and band.
Love Me For A Reason and Crazy Horses are held back, perfectly judged to bring the standing ovation. If you were never a fan, or found many of the songs too sugary, nothing can change that, but The Osmonds: A New Musical will delight all those ‘Osmondmania’ devotees once more and may well draw new converts too with its froth and fun, spirit and smiles, American good cheer and Seventies’ style.
Jay Osmond, pictured in York this week with the show’s principals, will be there again tonight, watching his family’s story unfold once more, still taking care of business. Faith, family, career, discipline, devotion and no bad apples.
The Osmonds: A New Musical, Grand Opera House, York, 7.30pm, tonight until Saturday; 2.30pm matinees, Thursday and Saturday. Box office: 0844 871 7615 or atgtickets.com/york
By Charles Hutchinson