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'Blood Brothers' is riveting drama
‘Blood Brothers’ is riveting drama
There are many reasons not to spend these lovely July evenings indoors. The Mercury Summer Stock Theatre trumps each and every one of them by offering a superb, must-see production of the musical “Blood Brothers.”
“Blood Brothers” is a riveting, melodramatic morality play in reverse, set in depressed Liverpool, England. It begins with the end — a tableau of two dead men surrounded by grim, nondescript people. We learn that the men are twin brothers separated at birth by their poverty-stricken mother, who gave up one of the twins to her wealthy, childless employer before the boy could be taken away by welfare services.
The play then flashes back to their birth and separation and offers glimpses of their increasingly dissimilar and separate lives at extreme ends of the social spectrum. We watch as these boys grow to men, with each scene and song providing some glimmer of hope that a different outcome than that presented in the opening moments of the play is possible.
Just when we think that destiny can be changed and past wrongs can be righted, a narrator enters to suggest otherwise. His frequently reprised “Shoes Upon the Table,” which includes the lyric, “The devil’s got your number ... he’s knocking on your door,” reminds us that each scene and song is bringing the brothers closer to their demise. We don’t know how or when the end will recur. We just know that it will. This is riveting, engaging storytelling.
“Blood Brothers,” with book, music and lyrics by Willy Russell, was conceived as a drama without music. After some pre-production workshops, music was added to the mix. The result is a play that largely stands on its own, with songs that serve to reinforce and accentuate emotion already generated by dialogue. This gives “Blood Brothers” its overtly melodramatic undertones. The musical premiered in Liverpool in 1983, opened in London in 1988 and is still running today.
Pierre-Jacques Brault is a director who fully embraces the melodrama in this play. It informs his staging (every movement is dramatic and purposeful, and there is little dancing to detract from the theatrics), his lighting and sound design (the narrator’s reminders of the boys’ inevitable doom is accompanied by vivid displays of red and desponding chords from the orchestra) and his cast’s interpretations of its characters.
The central character is the boys’ mother, Mrs. Johnstone, played wonderfully by Jennifer Myor. Mrs. Johnstone is world weary and perpetually melancholy, and every song is an emotional anthem that bears the full weight of her unfortunate circumstances and decisions. Ms. Myor sells every song, feels every line and brings to the stage an intriguing tenderness and vulnerability that carries this production.
Dan and Brian Marshall, actual brothers, play separated twins Mickey Johnstone and Eddie Lyons, respectively. They are brilliant. As young boys in Act 1 and young men in Act 2, their portrayals are textured, humorous and always interesting. Individually, they command attention when they take the stage. When appearing as a pair, they own the stage.
The rest of the cast, including Amiee Collier, as Eddie’s surrogate mother, and Molly Richards, as the boys’ friend Linda, are all wonderful singers and character actors. The only hitch in the casting concerns the role of Narrator. As talented as Matthew Patrick is, he is too young and not enough of a commanding presence to play this slick and seductive bearer and facilitator of this play’s doom and gloom.
The four-piece musical accompaniment, under the direction of Evie Morris, is thin but not to the point of being a distraction. In fact, the sound is in line with the play’s delicate story and the fragile characters who inhabit it.
“Blood Brothers” is an encore presentation by Mercury Summer Stock. The theater offered this show four years ago with many of the same principal players. The experience shows in this production, which runs until July 26 in Parma. It is worth seeing and, for the Mercury Summer Stock faithful, worth seeing again.
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