REVIEW – Delightful new Osmonds musical – currently at the Wolverhampton Grand – is destined for the West End and Broadway

IT IS delightful when as a reviewer you go to see a show with low expectations and come out with stars in your eyes.

I was expecting a jukebox musical featuring The Osmonds catalogue and what I got was an honest-to-God musical biopic with hidden depths and more twists and turns than the big dipper at Blackpool pleasure beach.

Picture by Pamela Raith. s

The story is written by the drummer Jay Osmond – quite fittingly as drummers always have a unique rear view take on matters. Shaun Kerrison and Julian Bigg, the shows director and musical arranger, helped Jay turn his story into an outstanding book.

The Osmonds are historically not known for a ‘sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll’ lifestyle associated with the genre, but more a squeaky clean Mormon family of five brothers and one sister. However, the fact they stick together through thick and thin with core values of Family, Faith and Dedication come across as something to admire not sneer at.

They did in fact influence a whole generation of girls who had to follow on the high heels of the permissive 60s. They told them through words and deeds that it is not compulsory to be a swinger and just as cool to be faithful as it was to bedhop. This is done beautifully via fan letters to Jay from Wendy in Manchester – their number one fan -a joyous little cameo from Katy Hards.

The cast is quite huge by modern standards, with two sets of Osmonds – the young (of which there has to be treble casting to comply with the laws) and the adult – plus a large ensemble of multi-role players. That makes for a massive and fabulous wardrobe of seventies flares and glam rock frocks– plus a liberal sprinkling of Elvis rhinestone. Take a bow Lucy Osborne costume and set designer.

Osborne’s set consists of five psychedelic stripes from fanning out across the floor from rear to front of the proscenium. Each of these is a mini stage for an Osmond brother wearing something that matches the colour of his stripe. Cleverly the only time they are not dancing in their own stripes is when there is disharmony in the air.

There is a huge set piece resembling a suspension bridge which swings in and out creating spaces of interest  and a raised porthole at the back of the stage through which the band can occasionally be spotted.

The show is narrated naturally enough by Jay – a wholeheartedly honest performance from Alex Lodge -the other Osmond brothers are Donny (Joseph Peacock),  Merrill (Ryan Anderson), Alan (Jamie Chatterton) and Wayne (Danny Nattrass) – all fine outings both as individuals and as team Osmond.

Charlie Allan plays the military-minded dad who is more ‘Sir-yes Sir’ than  ‘Give daddy a hug’ and Nicola Bryan plays his wife and sidekick Olive with warmth and gusto.

Completing the Osmond line-up and putting in quite a remarkable performance is Georgia Lennon as Marie – she’s half girl next door, half superstar.

Picture by Pamela Raith. s

The Osmonds started out as a tiny-tot barber shop quartet on the Andy Williams Show and went onto become the biggest boy band in the world before Donny became a solo sensation. Following that him and Marie became TV hosts of their own show.

After selling over a 100million records their downfall came through over production – the fans didn’t want Mary Poppins routines – they wanted rock ‘n’ roll. It was a squeaky clean squeeze too far. They lost everything and went on a two-year old style Osmond’s music world tour to earn enough money to pay their debts.

After the tour the Osmond’s disbanded and pursued individual careers and lives but they got back together for one final concert 20 years later. That concert is the final section of this wonderful show where we are all invited to the party.

It cannot be denied that the Osmonds created a legacy and for me two things are amazing. Firstly that this musical hasn’t been made before and secondly that it’s been made in England – Leicester to be precise; at the Curve Theatre where it premiered a few weeks ago.

As it happens there was second show going on last night at the Grand too – that was starring the 95 per cent female audience.

They sang along with everything from ‘Crazy Horses’ to ‘Long Haired Lover from Liverpool’ – knowing every word, linking hands and waving arms in the air like they did back in the 70’s and 80’s.

To cap it all, a mighty buzz ran round the theatre at the start of Act Two – Jay Osmond was in the house everybody! He walked through the circle and took up residence in the stage left box. His fans paid homage and he waved back. What sorcery is this?

‘The Osmonds’ musical is set for a long tour and then the West End and undoubtedly Broadway. You don’t have to be an aging fan to enjoy it – go and wallow in its’ bliss – it’ll put a smile on your face and joy in your heart – something we all need in these terrible times.

The Osmonds’ musical runs until Saturday, March 19. Click here for times, tickets and more information.

*****

Review by Euan Rose

Euan Rose Reviews

REVIEW – Malvern Theatres’ offering fun in parts but ‘better late than never’?

THIS adaptation of ‘An Hour and a Half Late by French playwright Gerald Sibleyras was first staged in the UK back in 2006 and starred the late comedian Mel Smith.

Here we are in 2022 and this time it stars Mel Smith’s partner the iconic Griff Rhys Jones. This surely is no accident but perhaps a tribute by Rhys Jones to his late chum as I cannot really see any other compelling reason to revive it.

It’s a pleasant enough piece, directed by Belinda Lang and beautifully acted by Rhys Jones as Peter, (a London tax consultant about to retire) and Janie Dee as his ‘frustrated on many levels’, wife Laura. However, it is dated and not in a cosy ‘Noel Coward’ kind of way but in a ‘people don’t really live like this any more’ pastiche.

Certainly one of the centrepiece speeches concerns Peter’s desire to indulge in a restaurant sweet trolley – the sort that has all kinds of wobbly, gluttonous goodies squeezed elbow to elbow on its mobile tiers. I concur, but it’s been many years since I saw one of those – I think the department of food and hygiene condemned them to the ‘museum of lost indulgencies’ many years ago. Effectively this also took the plot away from modern day living.

Peter and Laura are due out to dinner with Peter’s business partner. As the curtain rises we meet him sitting downstage with a smile born of years of non-confrontational marital manners and a twitching foot where all his irritation is focused.

Laura enters and moves speedily around the sumptuously furnished large lounge and areas off – seemingly without purpose. When she finally speaks it is to tell Peter she isn’t going.

This is the cue to start a bickering session about all that is wrong with their marriage – from sex to political complacency. She has, she despairs, swapped her political feistiness for white middle class gin and arty-farty-ness. Plus – horror of horrors – she didn’t have the affair she claimed to have after all.

The early conversations are well delivered sparring but repetitive to the point of making me, for one, ready to pull Graham Norton’s handle for his red chair. Then in comes the script cavalry with an excellent sequence where loose floorboards become erotic foreplay – hilarious stuff indeed.

This is followed shortly after by a liberating trashing scene where the couple indulge in mild rock and roll antics of smashing plates, emptying waste bins and scattering – scatter cushions.

Everything moves up a gear, a truce is reached and they finally go off to dinner – albeit an hour and a half late.

We are left in the glow of two excellent performances from Rhys Jones and Dee who have given of their best. It’s worth going to see for that reason but would love to have seen them do ‘Blythe Spirit’ instead.

An Hour and a Half Late runs until Saturday, March 19. Click here for times, tickets and more information.

***

Review by Euan Rose

Euan Rose Reviews

REVIEW – Disney’s ‘Once in a lifetime’ Beauty and the Beast at Birmingham’s Hippodrome has everything and more

WITH all the special magic that ‘only a Disney show can do’ Beauty and the Beast hit the Hippodrome stage on press night with a dazzling, delightful and spectacular production.

It was joyous to put the horrors that are happening in Ukraine to one side and bathe in glorious fantasy for a couple of hours – never has a show been more welcome or better received!

The magical voice of Angela Lansbury at the end of the overture, sends tingles up your spine as she takes us into ‘Once Upon A Time Land’.

Curtain up and a little French town appears before our eyes where we meet the townsfolk including Grace Swaby-Moore (standing in for Courtney Stapleton) as Belle. She looks every inch what we expect of our ‘straight off the storybook page’ – but with a feisty touch of feminism heroine.

Swaby-Moore has big shoes to fill as Stapleton has received rave reviews on earlier legs of this national tour; but she does so with confidence, we take her into our hearts from the get-go as we set off on her timeless journey.

Tom Senior is Gaston – the arrogant, beefcake pin-up-boy of the town where Belle lives along with her eccentric father Maurice – a suitably endearing, mad professor-like outing from Martin Ball.

Photo by Johan Persson © Disney

Gaston and his acrobatic sidekick Le Fou played by Louis Stockil make merry as a knock-about Laurel and Hardy duo, but with menacing undertones.

When Maurice seeks refuge in a castle in the wild woods to escape a pack of hungry wolves, it’s enter the beast – a stunning and all-engaging performance from Shaq Taylor. Every movement tells a tale as we feel his passion and his pain.

Belle goes on search of her dad and swaps places with him to obtain his release from the dungeons.

The Beast may have got her as his captive but he can’t force her to make chums.

The castle humans who have been changed into objects by a spell from an old hag, all deliver clever and funny performances.

That’s X-factor winner Sam Bailey as the teapot Mrs Potts – an outstanding Gavin Lee as human candelabra Lumiere, Nigel Richards as Cogsworth the clock, Samantha Bingley as Madame and Emma Caffrey as Babette.

Together they conspire to get Belle and the Beast to fall in love and lift the curse put on them all by the hag before the last petal falls from a rose encased in a glass display box.

It is a testimony to the brilliance of the all-round cast performances and wonderful direction and choreography from Matt West that they rise up to complement the most outstanding technicals I have ever seen on a stage.

Scenery zooms in and out in all directions, animations bring gasps, illusions and effects merge into a kaleidoscopic cacophony of brilliance.

Stanley A. Meyer is the scenic designer responsible for this theatrical miracle, which took an army of skilled mechanics and craftspeople to bring to life.

This constantly moving spectacular is simply breath-taking right up to and including the final illusion as the beast transforms above our heads into a handsome prince.

Wondrous stuff too is lighting from designer Natasha Katz and costumes from Ann Hould-Ward.

There are some fabulous songs and outstanding routines including a stunning Busby Berkley version of ‘Be My Guest’, which deserves a first act standing ovation in itself.

With lyrics from the master wordsmiths Howard Ashman and Tim Rice, a new book from Linda Woolverton that reflects 21st century gender equality, sumptuous music from composer Alan Menken and musical direction from Jonathan Gill this new version is a five star trip all the way to the Olivier’s and the Tony’s in my opinion.

On opening night, Thursday, as well as lighting up the stage, the Hippodrome will be illuminating the outside of the theatre in the colours of the Ukrainian flag sending out a message from Beautiful Birmingham to the beast in the Kremlin.

Book a seat if you can get one– shows like this come along once in a lifetime. The Hippodrome is back at the top of its game.

Click here for times, tickets and more information.

 ***** 

Review by Euan RoseEuan Rose Reviews