So did ya’ hear the story
of the Johnstone Twins
As like each other as two new pins
Of one womb born, on the self same day,
How one was kept, and one given away?
When I was young, I had a brother. Owing to our eight year difference in age, we didn’t do that much together, but we did have a bond. Bonds between brothers can be quite strong… and this can be true sometimes even if they don’t know they are real brothers. I mention this because last night we went to the Whitefire Theatre to see “Blood Brothers: The Musical. I had never heard of this musical before it was recommended to me my greenscar — it is in the 21st year of its long run in London. It was on Broadway in the early 1990s, and had a number of 1993 Tony award nominations.
Blood Brothers tells the story of Mickey Johnstone and Edward Lyons. It begins in the late 1950s, when their mother, Mrs. Johnstone tells of her life: she was once married but is now a single parent with lots of children. She is pregnant at present but feels she can just about cope with one more child. She is a cleaner for an upper-class couple, the Lyons, who are desperate for a baby but is unable to have one, and her husband does not want to adopt. When Mrs Johnstone discovers she is having twins, she makes a deal with her employer to give one up. She is made to swear on the bible to keep to the deal. After the babies are born, Mrs Lyons fires Mrs Johnstone, and tells her that “if twins separated at birth learn that they were once one of a pair they will both immediately die”. But one cannot escape fate, and the boys, not knowing they are twins, make a pact to be blood brothers. The musical follows them as they grow up. The families move, but they boys rediscover themselves. They fall in love with the same girl, Linda (who Mickey eventually impregnates and marries). There paths cross and cross again, permitting the audience to see Mickey’s life going down the path of the dole and depression and job loss, and Edwards path going to success, but not having the girl he loves. The last time their path cross, Linda has an affair with Eddie… and Mickey finds out. Mickey, distraught, becomes a madman and grabs a gun before storming down to the council offices to confront Eddie. There, Eddie is giving a speech when Mickey storms in with the gun. Mickey asks why, even though Eddie has everything and Mickey has nothing, Eddie would take away the one good thing that Mickey had. Eddie denies this intention, and the police enter, demanding that Mickey put the gun down. Mrs Johnstone runs onto the stage and, in an attempt to stop Mickey from shooting Eddie, tells the two brothers the truth. Mickey despairs that he wasn’t the one given away, because then he could have had the life given to Eddie. He accidentally sets the gun off, shooting and instantly killing Eddie. The police shoot Mickey, even though Mickey attempts to shout that it was an accident. Mrs Lyons’s superstitious prediction has come true, but the Narrator comments that class was more to blame than superstition. The story ends.
This is a powerful story, one that grabs you and twists you and turns you around, and you get so into it that the final shot at the end is really a shock. The questions raised are good ones, from the classic “nature vs. nurture” to the effects of superstition, to the question of the power of class differences. The presentation of this powerful story is enhanced by the performances at the Whitefire, which were uniformly strong. In fact, there was only one significant weakness, which was less performance than characterization: given the setting of the story, the performance would have been enhanced by having the correct accents — this is especially true for a London-based musical where ones dialect and accent is a significant denotation of class. However, I don’t feel this detracted from the quality of the acting — rather it was an area that would have moved it from strong to superb.
So who were these remarkable actors? Mrs. Johnstone was played by Pamela Taylor (a UC Davis grad), who was a very strong singer, and brought a great underclass look to the part. Her look of sorrow in the final scene was just haunting. Playing the other “mom” in the story, Mrs. Lyons, was Judy Nortonæ. Both were strong, but what draws you into this story isn’t the mothers, but the brothers and their life.
Inhibiting the part of Mikey Johnstone was Eduardo Enrikez (who also served as a Co-Producer). His 8 year old Mickey was playful; his 14 year old Mickey was the shy adolescent; and his 20-something Mickey was the picture of depression. His “blood brother”, Eddie Lyons, was inhabited by Ryan Nealyæ who provided the upperclass counterpart to Mickey. The girl who was between them was Linda, played by Sita Young, who I just found riviting. All were strong singers and performers. Rounding out the major characters was Gil Darnell as the Narrator, who actually had both the proper accent and the requisite evilness for the role.
Turning to the supporting roles, all of which had strong performances, but no particular strength to highligh: Mueen Jahanæ as Mr. Lyons and a number of supporting characters; Nicholas Mongiardo-Cooperæ as Sammy Johnstone; and Debra Arnott and Jess Busterna (who bears a remarkable resemblance to Alan Cumming) in multiple ensemble roles.
[æ denotes members of Actors Equity ]
Turning to the technical side: here is where the production had some problem. There were a number of things that worked: in particular, the set by Victoria Profitt and the lighting by Derrick McDaniel. The costumes by Susanne Klein were for the most part reasonable, although I did find Mickey’s costume in the last scene a bit odd (brand names were visible). The real problem was the sound design by Joseph “Sloe” Slawinski — there were times where the band overpowered the actors, and the clearly obvious microphones on the actors kept going in and out of operation, or having an annoying background hiss. Sound design should be transparent — and this one wasn’t.
The production was produced by Laura Coker and Eduardo Enrikez. It was directed by Bryan Rasmussen. The musical director was Carson Schutze (yes, a linguistics professor), with musical staging and choreography by Brian Paul Mendoza. The stage manager was Gabrieal Griego. “Blood Brothers: The Musical” features book, music, and lyrics by Willy Russell.
“Blood Brothers: The Musical” continues at the Whitefire Theatre through November 23.
As for us, our next show is Saturday, November 8 @ 8pm, when we’re seeing “Into The Woods” at the Lyric Theatre in Hollywood. The weekend after that (11/15 @ 8pm) is “The Lady With All The Answers” at the Pasadena Playhouse. 11/21 brings “Spring Awakening” at the Ahmanson. Friday 11/28 brings the last show of the RepEast season, “And Then There Were None”. December 4th, 5th, and 6th brings “Scapino” at Van Nuys High School (with nsshere doing the lighting). Lastly, I need to remember to explore tickets for “I Love My Wife (Reprise), which only runs 12/2-12/14 — right around the dates of ACSAC.