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Blood Brothers

Blood Brothers (musical)

Blood Brothers is a musical with book, lyrics and music by Willy Russell. It is one of the longest-running works of musical theatre in history, with the 1988 West End production still running after 20 years.

The musical tells a contemporary nature vs. nurture tale revolving around fraternal twins who were separated at birth. The twins' different backgrounds take them to the opposite ends of the social spectrum, one becoming an Oxbridge graduated councillor and the other ending up on the dole and in prison for a while. Both fall in love with the same girl who marries one but falls in love with the other; ultimately this conflict leads to their tragic death.

Background and productions

The original production by Willy Russell was written as a school play and presented in 1981. Russell then developed the work into a full-blown musical, which opened in the Liverpool Playhouse, in 1983, starring Barbara Dickson and Andrew C. Wadsworth. It was only a modest success. The show transferred to London, where it played for only six months or so before closing, although it won the Olivier Award for Best New Musical.

Bill Kenwright took over the show, and following a year-long national tour it reopened in the Albery Theatre in London in 1988 before transferring it to the Phoenix Theatre, where it has been running ever since. Con O'Neill, who played Mickey, won the Laurence Olivier Award for Best Actor in 1989 (1988 season) his performance.

The production is in its 21st year and has developed a cult following. The central role of Mrs. Johnstone has been played by, among others, Stephanie Lawrence, Clodagh Rodgers, Kiki Dee, Lyn Paul, Siobhan McCarthy, and four of the Nolan sisters (Linda, Bernie, Denise and Maureen). Ex-Blue member Antony Costa played the role of Mickey during 2006. Theatre and TV star Steven Houghton joined the London cast as The Narrator in 2007. The London production currently stars Lyn Paul as Mrs. Johnstone, Steven Palfreman as Mickey and Richard Reynard as Eddie. The narrator is currently played by Craig Price in the West End production.

On 3 November 2008, Niki Evans will make her West End debut playing Mrs Johnstone at the Phoenix Theatre for six months.

A second UK production is currently on tour with Marti Webb as Mrs. Johnstone.Broadway and U.S. tour The Broadway production opened on 25 April 1993 at the Music Box Theatre. The show closed on 30 April 1995 after 840 performances. Several of the British actors made their Broadway debuts, including Stephanie Lawrence as Mrs. Johnstone, Con O'Neill as Mickey, Mark Michael Hutchinson as Eddie and Warwick Evans as the narrator. Kerry Butler made her Broadway debut in the ensemble. In order to boost box office sales, Bill Kenwright convinced Petula Clark to make her Broadway debut as Mrs. Johnstone, with real-life brothers David Cassidy and Shaun Cassidy as her sons. She later starred in the U.S. national tour from 1994–95. Clark and the Cassidys also recorded the international cast album, with Willy Russell as the Narrator. Following Clark's portrayal, Mrs. Johnstone was played other 1960s pop singers, with Carole King and Helen Reddy later playing the role on Broadway.

Plot

Act 1 On an empty street in Liverpool around 1980, two figures lie on red stretchers, surrounded by police, with their grieving mother beside them and are then carried away. The mother, Mrs. Johnstone pleads, "Tell me it's not true, say it's just a story." A narrator introduces the story: "...lets see how she came to play this part." Mrs. Johnstone evokes "Marilyn Monroe", and the scene moves back 25 years in time to the late 1950s or early 1960s. Mrs. Johnstone tells of her life then: 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.

Mrs. Johnstone is a cleaner for an upper-class couple, Mr and Mrs Lyons. She superstitiously tells Mrs Lyons not to put new shoes on the table. Mrs Lyons is desperate for a baby but is unable to have one, and her husband does not want to adopt. Mrs Johnstone finds out that she is going to have twins and explains to Mrs Lyons that she can't cope financially with two more babies; the ‘welfare’ have been onto her about the ones she's already got. Mrs Lyons then suggests that Mrs Johnstone give one of the babies to her ("My Child"). Mrs Johnstone agrees and is made to swear on the bible to keep to the deal. Mrs Johnstone has the twins, but then regrets having agreed to give one away ("Easy Terms").

Mrs Johnstone continues to work for Mrs Lyons, but Mrs Lyons soon feels that Mrs Johnstone is paying too much attention to the child that she has given up to her. She fires Mrs Johnstone, who wants to take the baby with her, but Mrs Lyons plays on Mrs Johnstone's superstitions by telling her that "if twins separated at birth learn that they were once one of a pair they will both immediately die" ("Shoes Upon the Table"). Mrs Johnstone doesn't want to be a murderer and leaves without the child.

Seven years later, Mickey, the son Mrs Johnstone kept, meets Eddie, the other twin, and after learning they share the same birthday, the two boys decide to become blood brothers. They make a pact. Mrs Johnstone finds them and sends Eddie away, telling him not to come round again or else the "Boogey-man" will get him. Later in the day Mickey goes to Eddie's house, and Mrs Lyons throws him out. She and Eddie argue on the subject, and Eddie swears at her with a word that Mickey taught him. Mrs Lyons slaps him and immediately regrets her reaction ("Kids Game").

Mickey is playing with some neighbourhood children including his friend Linda. Afterwards he takes her to see Eddie, and the three of them sneak off to play. Mrs Lyons tries to find Eddie ("Shoes Upon the Table" reprise). She becomes worried about Eddie's association with Mickey, as she has started to believe the superstition that she herself had made up. She decides to move house and persuades her husband by pretending to be ill. When Eddie says goodbye, Mrs Johnstone gives him a locket with a picture of herself and Mickey, as the boys separate ("Long Sunday Afternoon/My Friend"). The scene shifts as Mrs Johnstone and her family are being re-housed in the countryside and move into their new house "Oh Bright New Day"). Act II Eddie and Mickey are now 14 years old. Mrs Johnstone and her family's lives are much improved since moving, and they haven’t seen Eddie in all this time. Mickey has a crush on Linda, who is obviously interested in him too, but Mickey doesn't know how to act with her. Both of them are suspended after mouthing off to their teacher. Eddie is also suspended from his boarding school for refusing to give up Mrs Johnstone's locket to a teacher, but he won't tell his mother about it. Mrs Lyons sees Mrs Johnstone near her house and her worries are renewed ("Shoes Upon the Table" reprise). Eddie and Mickey bump into each other in a field, but don't recognize each other. Each wants to be like the other ("That Guy").

They finally realize who the other is and meet up with Linda. The scene shifts ("Summer Sequence"), and they are 18 years old. Eddie has feelings for Linda but won’t say anything as he knows Mickey likes her too ("I’m not saying a word"). Eddie leaves for university but not before encouraging Mickey to ask Linda out. During Eddie’s absence, Mickey is fired from his factory job, which forces him onto the dole. He soon discovers that Linda is pregnant, and they decide to get married. Eddie returns at Christmas ready to party and have fun, but Mickey realises that they are now very different; after a small fight with Eddie, they part. In order to get money, Mickey assists his brother Sammy in a robbery that goes wrong, and he becomes an accessory to murder. He is caught and sentenced to 7 years in prison as Mrs Johnstone mourns the events ("Marilyn Monroe" (Part 3)).

In prison, Mickey becomes chronically depressed. When released early for good behaviour, he is still dependent on the anti-depressant drugs, and his relationship with Linda is not going well. She tries to help him but fails. She contacts Eddie, who is now a councillor, and they have a romantic fling in a park ("Light Romance"). Mrs Lyons sees them together and tells Mickey about it. Mickey, distraught over Eddie and Linda's affair, 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 (Linda). 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. Everyone is in a state of disbelief over the events ("Tell Me It's Not True").

Musical numbers

Act I

  • Overture – Orchestra, Company and Narrator
  • Marilyn Monroe – Mrs Johnstone and Company
  • Marilyn Monroe (Reprise) – Mrs Johnstone
  • My Child – Mrs Johnstone and Mrs Lyons
  • Easy Terms – Mrs Johnstone
  • Shoes Upon The Table – Narrator
  • Easy Terms (Reprise) – Mrs Johnstone
  • Kids' Game – Company
  • Gypsies In The Wood – Narrator
  • Shoes Upn the Table – Narrator
  • Bright New Day (Preview) – Mrs Johnstone
  • Long Sunday Afternoon/My Friend – Mickey and Eddie
  • Bright New Day – Mrs Johnstone and Company
Act II

  • Entr'acte – Orchestral piece
  • Marilyn Monroe 2 – Mrs Johnstone and Company
  • The Devil's Got Your Number – Narrator
  • That Guy – Mickey and Eddie
  • Shoes Upon the Table (Reprise) – Narrator
  • I'm Not Saying A Word – Eddie
  • Miss Jones – Mr Lyons, Miss Jones and Company
  • Marilyn Monroe 3 – Mrs Johnstone
  • Light Romance – Mrs Johnstone
  • Madman – Narrator
  • Tell Me It's Not True – Mrs Johnstone and Company


The best-known song from the score is the finale, "Tell Me It's Not True," which has become a staple in the concert repertoires of Dickson, Clark and Reddy.

Awards and nominations

  • Olivier Award for Best New Musical (1983) (winner)
  • Olivier Award for Best Actor in a Musical (1988) – Con O'Neill (winner)
  • Tony Award Best Musical (nominee)
  • Tony Award Best Book of a Musical – Willy Russell (nominee)
  • Tony Award Best Actor in a Musical – Con O'Neill (nominee)
  • Tony Award Best Actress in a Musical – Stephanie Lawrence (nominee)
  • Tony Award Best Featured Actress in a Musical – Jan Graveson (nominee)
  • Tony Award Best Direction of a Musical – Bill Kenwright, Bob Tomson (nominees)
  • 1993 Theatre World Award – Stephanie Lawrence (winner)
  • Drama Desk Award Outstanding Actor in a Musical – Con O'Neill (nominee)
  • Drama Desk Award Outstanding Featured Actor in a Musical – Mark Michael Hutchinson (winner)

References

External links

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