Review: The Osmonds: A New Musical at Liverpool Empire ***1/2
They were, perhaps, the original boy band – and in the 1970s Osmondmania swept Liverpool just as it did nearly every other place in the western world.
Plenty of original fans were out in force at the Empire on the opening night of this new touring musical which tells the story of the wholesome family from Utah from precocious close-harmony boy quartet to flare-wearing global superstars.
It’s a story written by and from the perspective of the group’s drummer Jay Osmond (sandwiched chronologically in the sibling line-up between Merrill and teen fans’ favourite Donny) and earnestly narrated by him – in the form of likeable actor Alex Lodge – on stage.
The action unfolds against a Russian doll of what seem to be ever decreasing TV screens from designer Lucy Osborne which hint at a life lived in the spotlight as well as forming a central 'O' of course.
After a brief glimpse of the supergroup they were to become, and the first tell-tale signs that all may not be well in Osmond-land, we’re whisked back to 1961 Hollywood where young Alan, Wayne, Merrill and Jay get their big break courtesy of first, Walt Disney, and then urbane crooner Andy Williams (Alex Cardall) who makes them a regular fixture on his TV show.
The then-quartet are drilled mercilessly by their exacting ex-army sergeant dad George (Charlie Allen) whose mantra is ‘faith, family, career’ and who won’t brook either dissention or breaking ranks.
The other family motto, which punctuates the evening, is: “It doesn’t matter who’s out in front, as long as it’s an Osmond.”
But is that necessarily true?
Above and top: The Osmonds: A New Musical. Photos by Pamela Raith
As the boys become men, the pressure of being part of the most famous family singers since the von Trapps start to gnaw at them, particularly the sensitive Merrill (Ryan Anderson). And along with battling their own demons and jealousies, a fateful decision leads to rows and recriminations as it threatens the whole family business.
Just as with the Osmonds themselves, there’s a lot to like about this touring show.
You can’t go wrong with the soundtrack, and the cast – backed by an off-stage band - deliver all those big Osmond numbers with megawatt smiles, impressive harmonies, and nifty synchronised dance routines overseen by choreographer Bill Deamer.
Georgia Lennon meanwhile is a knockout vocally as sister Marie, while the young actors playing the childhood siblings give assured performances, particularly Fraser Fowkes as ‘Little Jimmy’ Osmond who delivers a Top of the Pops performance of his 1972 Christmas chart-topper Long-Haired Lover From Liverpool.
And as back in the early 70s, its Donny (Joseph Peacock) who gets the stalls swaying, precious original Osmond scarves held aloft, with his winsome ballad Puppy Love.
But at two hours 45 minutes it feels self-indulgently long – there are moments throughout the evening where the narrative drags, or which feels repetitive, and which could be trimmed without losing the heart of the story, not least around the Donny and Marie Show era.
And, dare I say it, it could lose a couple of songs too.
Still, for most of the audience it’s all about the nostalgic warmth of a youthful passion (for the men and their music) and on that front it certainly doesn’t disappoint.
Just don’t make an early dart and miss the final rousing chorus from those Crazy Horses.