Alex and Osmonds

Alex Lodge, centre, as Jay with the rest of the Osmonds.

Pictures: Pamela Raith

The Osmonds – A new musical

The Grand Theatre, Wolverhampton


Let me put my cards on the table. I was never an Osmonds’ fan, not anti them, just that their teenybopper pop was not for me, my formative years were in the 60s and heading to the likes of Clapton, Led Zeppelin, Iron Butterfly, Springsteen and , well, the whole set list of Woodstock.

So, this was a clean slate. A musical about not so much a band as a brand, a family business: so, would it follow the formulaic jukebox path of we were unknown, discovered, became famous and here is a tribute act concert, or, like Jersey Boys, have a actual story to tell?

You get the answer pretty quickly, and what a story it is. Jay Osmond, the writer, was one of the original singing group, a barbershop quartet, when he was three. He knows as much as anyone what went on behind the clean cut, saccharin sweet brand image, and you suspect he has probably left out more than he put in.

The Osmonds’ father George, played by Charlie Allen, was ex-army, saw himself as a sort of family general and treated his children, nine of them in all, rather like a platoon of grunts, following barked orders and subjected to military discipline. He also planned their careers with military precision but, paradoxically, put decisions to a vote with majority rule. He was supported by his wife Olive, played by Nicola Brian, who added a mother’s softer touch.

We open with Jay, played by Alex Lodge, a rock in the group, arguing with Alan, played by Jamie Chatterton, the eldest, who saw himself as the de facto leader. Jay wanted to leave and go to college, Alan was against it and we knew at once that all was not sweetness and light beneath the happy family facade.

We had other clashes, Merrill, played by Ryan Anderson, wanted to marry his girlfriend Mary, frowned upon and banned by George who thought him too young, and resisted commercially by record execs as it might kill off their largely teen girl fan base.

They finally married in 1973, incidentally, and have six children and a golden wedding anniversary coming up in September next year.


Osmonds group

Alex Lodge as Jay, Jamie Chatterton as Alan, Georgia Lennon as Marie,  Ryan Anderson as Merrill, Danny Nattrass as Wayne and Joseph Peacock as Donny.

Wayne, played by Danny Nattrass, was usually lead guitar, while  Donny, played by Joseph Peacock,, and the youngest until Jimmy came along, was probably the most successful, with his own loyal army of teen girl fans. His fame brought its own tensions.

Jimmy, by the way, was played as a child by Austin Riley who gave us Long Haired Lover from Liverpool.

Then there was Marie, played by Georgia Lennon, with her own successful country career. Everything the family touched turned to gold, 100 million records, TV shows and national hit The Donny & Marie Show, with the Osmonds appearing every week, success which eventually led to them opening their own TV studio complex in their home state of Utah.

The Midas touch was not to last though. Fashions change. When The Donny & Marie Show was cancelled by the networks after falling ratings, the state of the art studio became a millstone, poor oversight by Alan and Merrill, and a hint that the accountants had overseen things in their own direction, meant the family was effectively bankrupt, with debts of $80 million, which took a two year world tour to pay off. A feat which, bizarrely, got a round of applause.

Along the way we had Alex Cardall as Andy Williams who gave the Osmonds their big break, and Katy Hards, who perhaps represented the millions of fans, writing regularly to Jay as Wendy of Manchester. She was to finally meet him at a reunion concert.

The band and Donny created Osmondmania, following on from Beatlemania in the 1960s and soon to be superseded by Rollermania as the Bay City Rollers came along. But if the Grand audience is anything to go by Osmondmania is still alive, if somewhat older, at least in Wolverhampton.

Looking around the audience many ladies of a certain age had become teenagers again, for a short while the years had been swept away on a tide of nostalgia, they waved arms aloft and swayed in unison, held banners, waved phone torches – it was cigarette lighters in my day – and enthusiastically embraced a long faded youth.

It didn’t matter that this was not the real Osmonds on stage, they were the real thing in spirit, the key to open the treasure trove of memories created half a century ago.

This is the Osmond story, warts and all, or some of them I suspect, starting with the child singing group, on Press night Jasper Penny as Merrill, Harvey Loakes as Alan, Lonan Johnstone as Jay, Austin Redwood as Wayne and Mattias Green as Donny.

Their Barbershop Quartet singing was exceptional and when it came to hits and the adult Osmonds they were all there with One Bad Apple, Down By The Lazy River, Goin’ Home, Love Me For a Reason, and on and on and with an encore with Crazy Horses and, perhaps appropriately, a version of It ain’t heavy, he’s my brother.

The Osmonds on stage displayed some snappy dancing, (choreography and musical staging Bill Deamer), fine singing and some mean musicianship as the Osmonds took up their instruments as the rock band they wanted to be, while, in the dance and boy band style numbers a screen opened at the back of the stage to reveal a fine five piece under musical director Will Joy.

For Osmond fans this is a delight, a night full of the warm glow of nostalgia, and for those who missed out, or avoided, Osmondmania, it is an inside look at a musical phenomenon in an entertaining and enjoyable jukebox musical which has an actual story to tell.

Directed by Shaun Kerrison, the Osmonds in their flamboyant costumes, (Lucy Osborne), will be filling the Grand with a mix of music and memories to 19-03-22.

Roger Clarke


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