Browse reviews

Brighton Year-Round 2022

The Osmonds: A New Musical

Royd Twins Entertainment Vicky Nojesproduktion, Krall Entrtainment, Aria Entertainment, Guy James Theatrical

Genre: Adaptation, Drama, Live Music, Mainstream Theatre, New Writing, Theatre

Venue: Theatre Royal, Brighton


Low Down

Story by Jay Osmond, Book by Julian Bigg & Shaun Kerrison, Additional Material by Bosse Anderson and Anders Albien, Music as performed by the Osmond Family.

Directed by Shaun Kerrison, Set & Costume Design  Lucy Osborne, Lighting Design Ben Cracknell, Sound Design Ben Samson, Wigs Hair & Makeup Design Sam Cox, Musical Supervision & Arrangements Julian Bigg & Rich Morris, Choreography & Staging Bill Deamer

Casting Will Burton CDG, Children’s Casting and Administration Jo Hawes CDG, Costume Supervision Bristol Costume services,

Musical Production Gary Hickeson, Musical Direction Will Joy, Associate Direction Max Lindsay, Associate Choreography Kylie Anne Cruikshanks, Artwork Feast Creative, Marketing Dressing Room 5, Press Amanda Malplass PR, General Management Royd, Production Management Lee Batty & Andy Fox for Setting Line

Till October 1st and touring


Jay Osmond the fourth brother has written The Osmonds: A New Musical to show how stars are born, as well as made. How appropriate that at least one was born tonight at the Theatre Royal, Brighton. Three of the five main brothers’ roles are taken by understudies – and it’s a hallmark of this superb production that each fits seamlessly and one shines as the standout of the night.

It may be they’re being rotated, so let’s see how this blazing ensemble enthuses fans. In the 1970s if you were there and one of them, you’ll definitely remember it. Even if it was your sister belting out the songs – she’ll be here in the run somewhere. Tonight, judging by real polite screams, waves and shouts it’s just half those in Brighton who know the Osmonds by heart. The rest pile in tomorrow.

So the story by Jay Osmond isn’t as anodyne as a few one could mention, though it’s hardly a white-knuckle relation of desperate acts: but there’s a storyline for most of the brothers, and  a strong dollop of hubris to walk nemesis-sized boots over everyone’s peace. Aided by Julian Bigg and Shaun Kerrison’s book (additional material Bosse Anderson and Anders Albien) the Osmonds move from 1961 through 1980 with a postlude in 2007.

Brought up not only as Mormons (rather backgrounded here) but by strict ex-army George (Charlie Allen full of snappy nostrums, every 1950s martinet, down to specs) and sympathetic, overruled Olive (Nicola Bryan, blossoming in private duets), the Osmonds family’s a cross between Butlins and a Utah bootcamp.

After the adult quintet intro, first shout-out goes to the magnificent red-coated child actors tonight: Donny: Osian Salter, Alan: Jack Jones, Wayne: Alfie Jones, Merrill:  Harrison Skinner, Jimmy:  Lyle Wren, Jay: Tom Walsh. This quintet (there’s three sets) has work not only showing their regimented rise through Andy Williams’ show – sharply characterised by Matthew Ives – but at reveals in the second act, how childhood selves become father of the man.  Times five.

Hence Alan’s tasked with wielding authority and wields too much; Wayne with a comic gift despite himself that turns kooky; Merrill the sensitive homebody who wants love and later settles too for mismanagement with Alan; then narrator Jay, the ‘glue’ the peacemaker who sees everything and relates it, but wants college and a different life. Finally Donny the teen idol baffled by it all, with a vocal crisis (cue Marie), and Jimmy who blasts on mainly as a child: take another bow, Lyle Wren nailing that screechy song ‘Long-haired lover’.

We gradually get to know the brothers, rising as boy phenomena to teen stars with accent on clean. There’s tensons as individuals pull against upbringing and their own diverging personalities. The cry ‘as long as it’s an Osmond’ fronting it doesn’t matter who, begins to wear thin after Donny Marie and Jimmy carve out solo careers.

Understudy Alex Cardall shows how Alan Osmond slowly grows into the vacuum of authority he’s handed by George, only to grow too well. Danny Mattrass’s Wayne has less to do but prove eventually how his comic pratfalls influence a wrong turning the brothers make later on when Alan and Merrill’s plans go awry. Mattrass has a superb singing voice.

As has Aidan Harkins who though not flagged as understudy (none of them are) makes Merrill Osmond the star of the show alongside Alex Lodge’s central Jay. Harkins has an emotional truth to this middle brother, more sensitive, hesitant and reflective than his peers (except perhaps Jay) he’s in love with someone back home and wants nothing more than to be united with them. His singing and the depth of his characterisation make him the most relatable, the most vulnerable and the one with the strangest journey: ending up producing alongside Alan. But then he’s married back in Utah with the family’s new recording suite.

Lodge has to command as Jay, both as narrator taking the emotional temperature in between and picking up the emotional highs and ensuring with engaging clarity and ability he holds attention. So you never notice the drop in tempo as necessary storylines are brought out like bright filaments, often with the corresponding boy actor showing a key flashback; just once clunky, mostly deft and revelatory. Lodge’s interaction is constant, he’s never off the stage. His connections to Merrill, Olive and Donny in particular show how he has to shuttle diplomacy until it’s too much. Disparaged at the beginning by Alan as just the drummer, it takes Jay the whole musical to show that slur up.

Tristan Whincup’s Donny Osmond is less centre-stage than you might expect, but Whincup never suggests for one moment  that he’s not long settled in his part. He’s particularly effective when Donny’s self-doubt overtakes him, both vocally and personally; and his stand-out comes in ‘Puppy Love’ which he soars into the stratosphere to an audience at first agog, then wild.

Georgia Lemon too has a fabulous voice as Marie, the more country-and-western-style sister who gradually edges into the limelight with ‘Paper Roses’ to duets. She shares with Donny the vertiginous honour of hosting a chat show in their teens. Sophie Hirst as Wendy the pop-up teenage fan is an attractive cameo we should have seen land more with the weight it – and she – deserves.

There’s fine ensemble work elsewhere too: Stephanie Mackenzie, Henry Firth, Lotus Lowry, Samuel Routley, Mathew Ives, Luke Hogan.

Directed by Shaun Kerrison, with choreography and staging by the ultra-experienced Bill Deamer it’s a spectacular trying out the tour before it hits the West End, and it clearly should. Production values are outstanding. The rainbowish-striped set is answered in Lucy Osborne’s costume design  with clothes that match them in the sleeves but otherwise white: indeed bar a set of black spangled kitsch from 1974, white’s the Osmonds’ colour, as well as rainbow shirts which gradually flags up Jay as green, Merrill yellow, Alan red, Wayne blue and Donny violet – I think!

Lighting by Ben Cracknell – as you’d expect from this show production luminary – is multi-faceted: whether under disco, long mornings of summer or the glare of studios. Ben Samson’s sound ensures this isn’t as overwhelming as some shows can be, and a shout to Sam Cox’s en brosse wigs hair and makeup design. This five for the most part look Osmonds.

Julian Bigg who wrote the book, teams with  Rich Morris for musical supervision and the arrangements to produce a sequence of hits – where will ‘Crazy Horses’ with Jay’s darker-voiced lead ever come? you ask. It’s played by the musical quintet of Jay Osborne, Alex Harford, Ali McMath, Adam ‘Twenny’ Sheffield.

This musical hits home where it needs to: presses a crisis and resolution and a deftly textured plot, with those sudden hearkings-back. It’s a feel-good, but with a family crisis and moments of tension you’d not normally associate with such a show. Jay’s story pushes against the boundaries of a genre that can’t accommodate the reach of a great musical, because its great music is simply pop. You can’t craft Carousel out of that. But you can report the truth, with a few warts: you feel there’s justice here.

Not that there aren’t suggestions. There’s that curious sideshow in the growing up of Hirst’s Manchester fan Wendy, though again one would like it to land more than it does. Not everything’s tied up, but this is a long show, nearing two-and-a-half-hours with a 20-minute interval. Musically it’s flawless, superbly cast, literally cast-iron with such understudies, and with Aidan Harkins as Merrill can Brighton proclaim a superb talent who’ll go far? Together with Alex Lodge’s Jay, he’s the truth of this evening, and the cast each shine in this generous telling.

If you’re into musicals, it’s a must-see to be mentioned in the same breath as that other group-endorsed musical playing its soul out in the West End. This should join it.