Thursday, April 25, 2013

broadway birthday - BLOOD BROTHERS opened on Broadway 20 years ago today on April 25, 1993

The smash hit British musical Blood Brothers opened on Broadway twenty years ago today. With a book and score by Willy Russell, what started out as a school play in 1982 would go on to with the Olivier Award for Best Musical in 1983.  After its initial London run, a 1987 UK tour was so successful that the show ended up back in London in a revival that began in 1988, though it would still take another five years before the show made its way to Broadway.  And while the Broadway run of the show was somewhat short, running just two years, the London revival production played over 10,000 performances and ran for over twenty years, where it closed last Fall on November 10, 2012.

Telling the story of a woman and her two fraternal twin sons who were separated at birth, Blood Brothers is an interesting musical in that it not only shows how the impact the decision to split them up has on their mother but it uses the class system in Britain as a way to show how it can affect the outcome of each twin, since one is raised in a rich household where the child becomes a well off council member and the other twin is raised in a poor one where he ends up out of work, depressed and spends time in prison due to his involvement in a robbery gone wrong.   The show also uses a Narrator to comment on the story, which is stepped in superstition, and he also plays several humorous parts in the show.

Single mother Mrs. Johnstone works for Mrs. Lyon as a house cleaner.  When Mrs. Johnstone finds out she is pregnant with twins she tells Mrs. Lyons that she can't afford to keep them both so Mrs. Lyons, who is desperate for a child but unable to have any, suggests that she give one of the children to her.  Mrs. Johnstone agrees though she later regrets it and even lies to her other children saying that only one of the twins, Mickey, survived.  When Mrs. Lyons fires Mrs. Johnstone as she feels she is paying too much attention to the child she gave away, Edward, she tries to give her money but also tells her that if children that were separated at birth learn they have a twin they will both die the same day.   This superstition and talk of the "bogeyman" are threaded throughout the show.  The twins grow up and become "blood brothers" when they learn they have the same birthday.

Mrs. Lyons then discovers that her son Edward's "friend" that he always talks about is actually Mickey and so she forces her husband to move the family away.  However the first act ends with Mrs. Johnstone's family being rehoused from the inner city to an outlying town that just happens to be where Mrs. Lyons and Eddie have moved to.   The second act finds the boys in their teen years meeting up again as they both fall in love with the same girl, Linda.  Eventually Mickey gets Linda pregnant and they get married but then Mickey gets fired from his job and then becomes depressed and addicted to anti-depressants due to time spent in prison as an accessory to murder.  When Mickey believes Eddie is having an affair with Linda he shows up with a gun to confront him and the show ends with the superstition coming true or is it "class" and not the superstition that is to be blamed?

Carole King as "Mrs. Johnstone"
The score is a somewhat simple, pop-rock themed one but also has some lovely ballads including "Easy Terms," "That Guy," "I'm Not Saying a Word," and "Tell Me It's Not True" as well as the rousing act one closer "Bright New Day."  And while the production used a fairly simple set and a small cast, a nice directorial touch was that the twins are played by the same two actors throughout the show, from about age 7 to their mid 20's.  And while this might seem a bad decision, having adults play children, I must say that the three times I've seen the show, twice on Broadway and once in London, the cast was extremely talented and completely pulled this off and found humor in playing young lads as well as pain and sorrow in their older selves.

The Broadway production ran for two years, closing on April 30, 1995.  It initially starred Stephanie Lawrence as Mrs. Johnstone with Con O'Neill and Mark Michael Hutchinson as Mickey and Eddie and Warwick Evans as the narrator.  All four played those roles in London with O'Neill winning the Olivier Award for his performance.  The original Mrs. Lyons on Broadway was Barbara Walsh.  Future Broadway star Kerry Butler made her Broadway debut as a member of the ensemble and an understudy for the role of Linda. 

Petula Clark made her Broadway debut when she replaced Lawrence and was joined with half brothers David and Shaun Cassidy as Mickey and Eddie.  The three of them would also record an "International" cast recording of the show with creator/composer Willy Russell as the Narrator.  Barbara Dickson was the original "Mrs. Johnstone" in the UK, with Kiki Dee playing the part in the London revival.  Other notable Broadway replacements included iconic 1960's pop singers Carole King and Helen Reddy.  I saw both Lawrence and King in the show and have to say that while Lawrence was excellent King was also exceptional.

"Did you ever hear the story of the Johnstone twins? As like each other as two new pins. How one was kept and one give away. How they were born and they died on the self same day."

Barbara Dickson, the original "Mrs. Johnstone" in 1983 sings "Easy Terms":

The Original Broadway cast peforms on the Tony Awards:

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