Book, Music and Lyrics by Willy Russell,
Directed by Bob Frazer and Sara-Jeanne Hosie
Musical director Sasha Niechoda
Arts Club Theatre Company
Granville Island Stage
to Dec 31st, 2011
Vancouver, BC: Five years ago I saw a London West End production of Blood Brothers (Blood Brothers - a Heartbreaker). It is one of the shows that has stuck in my memory for its evocative staging ... and the story. Over the years, I have read numerous twin studies which looked at "nature versus nurture" through examining long term outcomes when twins are separated at birth. In Blood Brothers, Russell imagines such a situation where one twin is brought up in poverty and the other in affluence, with fatal consequences for both.
The twin brothers, Eddie (Adam Charles) and Mickey (Shane Snow) are born to an impoverished mother, Mrs. Johnstone (Terra C. MacLeod), who already is struggling to care for several older children. The infertile, wealthy woman for whom she works, Mrs. Lyons (Meghan Gardiner), coerces the mother into giving one of the twin boys to her to raise as her own. One boy grows up poor, one rich. They meet accidentally as young children and as kids do, declare themselves to be "blood brothers". No one other than the two women, knows that they are really biological brothers. Despite the best efforts of the mothers to keep them apart, Eddie and Mickey inevitably cross paths again and again, and are drawn together into an uneasy friendship complicated by the presence of Linda (Lauren Bowler). When Mickey is persuaded by his older brother Sammy (Ashley O'Connell) to take part in a crime, Mickey's life begins to unravel.
The story of the Johnstone twins is introduced and narrated by John Mann, who as always has a commanding stage presence. Terra MacLeod was a sympathetic character as the hapless Mrs. Johnstone who fate kept slapping down. Meghan Gardiner was particularly strong as we watched her evolve from a confident, if selfish woman, into an almost fragile paranoid wreck over her fear that the secret would emerge.
I thought that Blood Brothers was an interesting choice for Bob Frazer, one of Vancouver's most charismatic actors, to make for his directorial debut. Firstly it is a musical, and although his co-director, Sara Jeanne Hosie excels in that genre, I would have thought a drama would be more his metier. It is also a specially challenging musical because the adults playing the twins have got to pretend to be seven year olds, and then teens. Not easy and not really convincing.
This was also the first musical written by Russell, who is known for his plays, amongst which are "Shirley Valentine" and "Educating Rita." In his program notes for the London production, he describes the sage advice given by his agent about writing a musical - "in musical theatre, you must, absolutely must be hummable." As I left the theatre I found myself humming the refrain from Marilyn Monroe - "we went dancing" - and it kind of stuck in my head, perhaps for the sadness of how it turned to "no more dancing" as for the tune. But hummable it is.
Overall I enjoyed it the show but for me it lacked the "wow"factor.
For tickets call the Box Office at 604-687-1644 or book online.