Written by Daniella Litvak
If you are familiar with London’s West End theatre scene you may have heard of Blood Brothers. It holds the distinction of having the third longest show run —among musicals —on the West End —behind only Les Miserables and The Phantom of the Opera. Unfortunately Blood Brothers did not achieve the same popularity here in the states as it did in England, and productions of it are rare. Fortunately, the denizens of Orange County are currently in luck because Blood Brothers is playing right now in our very own backyard.
Set in Liverpool and spanning from 1960 to 1985, Blood Brothers begins its story with Mrs. Johnstone (Dyan Hobday). She is
a downtrodden, lower class woman whose husband has abandoned her and their seven children while she is pregnant with the eighth. Determined to support her family, Mrs. Johnstone finds work as a cleaning lady to the wealthy Lyons family. She is optimistic that things are looking up for her until she discovers she is pregnant with twins, which sends Mrs. Johnstone into despair because, while she thought she could scrape by and provide for eight, she sees no possible way to support nine children. Sensing an opportunity, Mrs. Lyons (Veronique Merrill Warner) convinces Mrs. Johnstone to give her one of the twins to raise as a son since she and her husband (Jerry Marble) are childless. Mrs. Johnstone reluctantly consents, and the twin who remains with his birth family is named Michael “Mickey” Johnstone (Devon Suraco) while the other becomes Edward “Eddie” Lyons (Jeffrey Johns). Then Mrs. Lyons blackmails Mrs. Johnstone into never seeing Eddie again and to never reveal the truth. Despite efforts to keep the brothers apart, Mickey and Eddie unknowingly reunite and become best friends. However, the universe is determined to put their relationship to the test.
Whose story is Blood Brothers telling? Is it about the brothers or the mothers? It is not quite both. The parts of the show focusing on the brothers feels like a complete story while the mothers’ storyline does not. Mrs. Johnstone and Mrs. Lyons have such a strong dynamic in the beginning, so it is a bit disappointing to see it end midway through the second act and then have to watch Mrs. Johnstone become more a narrator rather than a character as well as the lack of focus on Mrs. Lyons. Also the final buildup to the climax and the climax itself transpire too fast. Too much exposition and too many plot points are too quickly crammed down in a very short timeframe.
Despite those issues Blood Brothers is an engaging and entertaining musical that manages to be both gut busting and gut wrenching. The story is compelling. The characters are interesting. The songs are memorable and leave you wanting to hear them again. Furthermore this show is a great example on how to utilize dramatic irony effectively. A large part of Blood Brothers’ success comes from the performers. Overall the cast is very good. Hobday, Suraco, and Johns are excellent in the leading roles. From their facial expressions to their singing, they knock it out of the park. Add in an effective stage design with superb lighting (both created by Nick Charles) and the audience gets to witness something special unfold on stage.
It is playing right now at the Stage Door Repertory Theatre but not for much longer. Make up your mind now if you want to see it.