By Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily
A Star Valley resident is celebrating the premiere this week of a musical chronicling his family’s rise to stardom in the 1960s and 70s. The family? The Osmonds. The title of the musical that premiered in England on Tuesday? “The Osmonds.” The man behind the show? Jay Osmond – a proud resident of Star Valley, Wyoming, a region that his family helped to settle.
Jay was just 3 years old when he and three of his older brothers began performing songs in four-part harmony around their community of Ogden, Utah, to raise money for hearing aids for brothers Tom and Virl.
A failed audition for “Lawrence Welk” in the late 1950s led the group to be discovered by Walt Disney, and later entertainer Andy Williams. “The Osmond Brothers” became massively popular over the next decade, with two more brothers (Donny and Jimmy) eventually joining the group, spawning “Osmondmania” around the world.
In the 1960s and 70s, there was not a more recognizable name in entertainment. Television shows, top-ten hits and world tours defined family life for over two decades – a time that Jay related in his book, “Stages: An Autobiography.”
The journey of The Osmonds, through his eyes, is the story Jay brought to producers as the basis for the musical that premiered in Manchester on Tuesday.
Proud Wyoming Heritage
Although most people associate the Osmond family with the state of Utah, their roots are in Star Valley, Wyoming, where Jay and his wife Karen reside.
“My great grandfather, George Osmond, came from London,” he told Cowboy State Daily, “and he was commissioned by Brigham Young to go out to Afton and set up that town.”
Jay’s grandfather and father were both born in Star Valley, said Osmond.
“My father was born in Etna, and my grandfather was born in Afton,” he said. “So I’m a fourth generation Star Valleyian. And my nephew, Travis Osmond, is living there – he’s the fifth generation – and now his kids are there. There’s six generations there.”
Osmond is thrilled to be a Wyomingite, coming back to his family’s roots.
“A lot of people don’t know, they think that the roots of the Osmonds were from Utah, but it’s really Wyoming,” Jay said.
Jay’s wife, Karen, added that Jay’s father had dreams of taking his family back to Star Valley.
“His father always wanted to bring the boys back and raise them in Wyoming,” said Karen. “That was his dream. But since they were always all over the world with Andy Williams, and they were doing their movie star-recording star stuff, they were never able to go.”
Jay loves the people of Wyoming.
“They’re what I call the salt of the earth people, because they’re just real, they’re grounded,” he said. “They don’t give into all that fluff and silliness that Hollywood throws at people. And that’s one of the reasons we wanted to move back.”
Because of their careers, Jay said, the family settled where it made the most sense at the time – from Hollywood to Provo, where the Osmond kids attended Brigham Young University; then to Branson, Missouri, where the family performed.
“But I always wanted to get back to the roots, in the heart of what the Osmonds were all about for me,” he said.
The “Star” in Star Valley
Karen said George would often remind his family, in subtle ways, about their Wyoming roots.
“He’d always draw this perfect star when he doodled,” she said. “And Jay was always going, ‘What is that?’ Well, when we moved to Star Valley, there’s that ‘star.’ So when he was doing that, he was remembering and wishing that he could be there.”
“It was his way of always recalling his memories,” Jay said. “He had such good memories. And, of course, we visited as kids, but he always wanted to raise us there in Star Valley.”
Jay said that when the family was honored with their own star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, his father pointed to that star as a reminder of what’s important.
“When we got the star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, he told us, ‘Never forget, everyone’s a star – and don’t forget where your roots came from,’” Jay recalled.
A star also symbolized George’s philosophy, which he passed on to his children.
“He said that there are five points to make you a star,” Jay said. “Number one, to be mentally strong; two, physically fit; be socially aware of others; spiritually in tune; and also, financially stable. Those are the five points that he loved, that’s what makes people healthy. And that’s what kept us grounded.”
Jay credits his father’s philosophy with keeping the family together through their tumultuous years in the spotlight.
“This play that I’m writing, he’s John Wayne and Cary Grant all together in one person,” he said. “But he was such a good man, this play that I’m doing is a lot about him and my sweet angel mother, and how they got us started, and the wonderful people that they are, and how they got us through all these hard things.”
Osmond has dedicated the past five years to creating the musical, based on a book he was writing, which he called “Finding My Voice In A Big Family.”
“Sixty years in show business, over 30 songs, and so it was a real task to put it together,” he told Cowboy State Daily in an interview on Wednesday, the morning after the show’s premiere.
“I take people on a journey, basically,” Jay said. “And I show the highs and lows of our career and our family life – but it is through my eyes. It’s how I saw it. It’s not the official Osmond story. It’s just my way of showing people how I saw things growing up as an Osmond.”
The show premiered in Europe because of the connections Jay made while in the process of writing his book.
“My friend was the owner of several theaters in the Nordic area,” Jay said. “And then we got with Andrew Lloyd Webber’s producers, and then we got some great writers to help me crunch things together in London, and so that’s why it’s here – because really we wanted to start it here, but it’s going to eventually get to America.”
The project has been an emotional journey for Jay, recalling the events that shaped his life, and putting them on display for all to see.
“I was asked by a lady who said, ‘What is the highlight of the show for you?’ And I said, ‘When we were at our lowest point,’” Jay said. “Because I saw a family pull together like I’ve never seen anybody. When you go through what we went through, and how we lost so much money, and the people that were around us – and yet we pulled through and pulled it together again.”
Jay pointed out that his brothers didn’t have input into the creation of this musical, because it would have made the story confusing.
“This one I had to do on my own,” he said, “because, really, you can’t have nine versions of the stories.”
But he said his brothers are supportive of his project.
“Donny wants to come over (to England) before this particular leg is up,” he said.
Jay said “The Osmonds” musical isn’t just for fans that grew up following their career – it’s for anybody who loves musical theater.
“It’s for anybody really, who wants a fun night out, who is maybe even curious about our family,” he said. “The music, the pacing… the dancing, these people who put it on – you’re not going to believe the acting involved, and the singing, and the band is amazing.”
Jay said after the tour is completed in the United Kingdom, the company has plans to take the show to Canada, then to the U.S., before going to other places around the world.
Jay said so far, the response to his family’s story has been heartwarming.
“It’s fun to see people standing in the aisles, singing and dancing and laughing and even crying at the right moments,” he said. “I’m so thrilled.”