Festival Theatre, Edinburgh
It’s late September, the theatres have been dark for the best part of a month, and we finally come back to… this. It’s probably fair to say that I’m not in the ideal demographic for The Osmonds: A New Musical but, looking down into the stalls of the Festival Theatre, it’s clear at a glance that a lot of women are here tonight, revisiting their teenage crushes – and they are having a great time. Some of them are even wearing the T shirts.
I was never an Osmonds fan. I was aware of them, of course, and – whichever way you look at it – they were a phenomenon, a seemingly unstoppable pop juggernaut. Originally a foursome of squeaky clean school kids, drilled to perfection by their army veteran father, George (Charlie Allen), and occasionally comforted by their Mom, Olive (Nicola Bryan), the boys were taught that family was everything and that it didn’t matter who was leader, as long as it was an Osmond. These were the kids who were ‘discovered’ in 1962 by family crooner Andy Williams, and who eventually signed a five-year contract for weekly appearances on his TV series. They consequently grew up in the unforgiving glare of a massive spotlight and, over the years, they sold over one hundred million records. Think about that for a moment.
One. Hundred. Million.
It really ought to be a fascinating tale but the clunky storytelling means it’s never really allowed to take flight; there’s far too much telling and not enough showing. Too often, we cut away from the more interesting stuff for a (very accurate) rendition of one of a long list of songs – although I can’t fault the performances, which nail with aplomb the brothers’ respective singing styles.
The story is told from the perspective of Jay (Alex Lodge), the tall one who was usually positioned in the middle. It’s his spin on the tale – as transcribed by Julian Bigg and Shaun Kerrison – that powers this version of events and it’s interesting to note that George’s relentless approach to childcare is barely criticised, and that there’s barely any mention of the family’s Mormon religion. Naturally, towards the end, there’s a bit where the other brothers acknowledge that Jay was right about everything and they should have listened to him. Of course there is.
Most of us know the trajectory of the group: how Donny (Joseph Peacock) and his kid sister, Marie (Georgia Lennon) became TV stars in their own rights, and how the other brothers were eventually relegated to backing band status, obliged to goof around in hokey costumes behind their younger siblings – and how, in the 1980s, the family’s attempt to set up their own production company back home in Utah resulted in devastating financial ruin, obliging them to tour the world for two years in order to pay back every cent they owed.
The first half works well enough, moving slickly along like a well-oiled machine, as the boys rapidly ascend to stardom. The costumes are spot on, the choreography is inventive and the hits keep on coming. The second half, however, feels somehow rather inert, with the brothers quarrelling, suffering from emotional distress and trying to apportion blame for their predicament. Time after time, more songs are offered as fillers (though to see Peacock perform Puppy Love to hordes of screaming women is certainly something to behold).
Sensibly, they hold Crazy Horses till the end. That uber-heavy riff that wouldn’t have disgraced Motörhead in their prime even has me jiggling in my seat.
As the curtain falls, there’s no doubting the excitement of those fans down in the stalls, who are up on their feet applauding. The Osmonds is an accomplished jukebox musical, but I’m left with the distinct conviction that, with a better script, it could be more than that.