/ April, 2017
Blood Brothers is a musical that, until this Venice Theatre production, I had never seen, though I had heard the score.
It achieved tremendous success in England. The initial production in 1983 had a modest run in London’s West End, but following a tour the show returned five years later and ran 24 years, finally closing in 2012. A Broadway production was only able to eke out a two-year run and that was due to some celebrity casting. I can now understand the less than rousing success stateside.
Blood Brothers has a very English slant to it, certain elements are distinctly embedded in the English culture in ways that they are not in America. For example, there is an important superstitious element that runs all through the show that Americans may have trouble taking to their hearts. The plot examines nature vs. nurture in a story involving twin boys separated through financial necessity who grow up as best friends despite their respective parents attempts to prevent it. As a whole, the musical seems slightly polemic, but the storytelling keeps everything moving forward, and the horrifying final outcome alone makes it worthy of attention.
Leading Venice Theatre’s strong cast is Alana Opie as Mrs. Johnstone. Although I have seen Ms. Opie in both musical and the occasional non-musical roles, this performance really shows why she is a go-to actress for star parts. Her singing is solid all through the show and her chemistry with Dennis J. Clark as Eddie, the child Mrs. Johnstone gave away, is palpable. This does not suggest that her relationship with Brian Craft as Mickey, the child Mrs. Johnstone keeps, is any less vivid, but because she raises Mickey, it is a more rounded relationship.
Mr. Craft and Mr. Clark show fine chemistry together as well, and both do a really fine job depicting the boys at various ages. I believe this is the strongest performance I have seen from Brian Craft, and he has been all over local stages since last year. Mr. Clark is new to me, but he is a welcome addition to area stages.
Lisa Figueroa and Rik Robertson are excellent as Mr. and Mrs. Lyons who raise Eddie after making a bargain with Mrs. Johnstone. Kelly Duyn is the narrator, originally written for a man but just as effective played by a strong woman with great vocal chops. Amanda Heisey is Linda, the girl both Eddie and Mickey covet as teenagers, while Patrick Tancey is Mickey’s older brother, the troubled Sammy. Brian Finnerty, Julie Kulin, Willie Marte, Dakota Murrell, and Jacen Paponetti form the ensemble.
Allan Kollar directs with a sure hand. Not only does he realize strong performances from his cast, but he keeps the story moving with great dramatic intensity, aided by co-choreographers Jasmine Deal and Nethaneel Williams. Music director Michelle Kasanofsky does a wonderful job with the score and leading her six man/woman band. All of this takes place on a really interesting set by Tim Wisgerhof who has been responsible for a whole series of great sets at Venice this season. The central image is a group of doors, which I interpreted to suggest all the coming ins and going outs that we experience during life. Costumes by Francine Smetts are hampered by a limited budget; I wish Mrs. [Johnstone] could have had at least one change of outfit during the over 20 years that pass during the story. Lighting designs by John Michael Andzulis and sound design by Dorian Boyd and Jaclyn Ledoux contribute to the excellence of the production.
Blood Brothers represents why our community theaters are so important. The professional companies are not producing a lot of musicals and when they do they tend to schedule the best known shows to guarantee audience interest. Where else might we see Blood Brothers in an outstanding production?