Music, book and lyrics by Willy Russell
Directed by Alex Mustakas
Musical direction by Charles T. Cozens
Performed by Charlotte Moore, Paul McQuilllan, Tory Doctor, et al.
Huron Country Playhouse, Grand Bend
July 6 – July 23, 2011 at Huron Country Playhouse, Grand Bend
July 27 – Aug 13, 2011 at King’s Wharf Theatre, Penetanguishene
Oct 12 – Nov 5, 2011 at St. Jacobs Country Playhouse, St. Jacobs
Reviewed by Mary Alderson
Arresting Performances in Blood Brothers
In a departure from the usual fare at Huron Country Playhouse, Director Alex Mustakas is presenting Blood Brothers, a British musical without the usual happy ending that Drayton Entertainment normally gives us.
Not to say that there weren’t laughs along the way: there were many. And we were forewarned that we might be reaching for a tissue by the conclusion of the show.
Blood Brothers opens with two men, both dead, lying on the stage. Then the story steps back into Liverpool and spans a lifetime, to tell us how it comes to this tragic ending.
Mrs. Johnstone is a struggling single Mum with a large family. She learns she is pregnant with twins while working as a housekeeper for the wealthy Mrs. Lyons, and complains that she can’t afford two more babies to feed. Mrs. Lyons is unable to have children, so she proposes to take one of the twins and pass it off as her own. Mrs. Johnstone is forced into the deal, but regrets it when the two boys are born.
Both women are superstitious: Mrs. Johnstone is fearful when she sees Mrs. Lyons put her shoes on the table. Mrs. Lyons tells her that if twins are separated and then get back together, they will die.
The boys, even though they are being raised completely differently – Mickey with his mum and siblings in poverty, Edward with the Lyons in a wealthy home – find each other at age 7, and again at 15, becoming friends. As teenagers, they both like Linda, who has a crush on Mickey. Linda and Mickey marry while Eddie is at university and their friendship ends because their worlds are so different. Mickey is drawn into crime by his brother Sammy and becomes addicted to drugs. Linda seeks help from Eddie, making Mickey jealous. In his depressed state, Mickey threatens to kill Eddie. Mrs. Johnstone arrives just in time to tell them they are, in fact, brothers. Mickey accidentally shoots Eddie, and the police kill Mickey, making the superstitious prophecy come true.
While the tale is fascinating, it is enhanced with excellent music and stirring lyrics, as well as a narrator who moves the story along.
Canadian stage icon Charlotte Moore is outstanding as Mrs. Johnstone. Moore was excellent in the Sondheim review at the Grand last fall, and sings the Blood Brothers songs with the same amazing strength. Her heart-rending performance shows her distress at giving up one son. Her belief in superstition is outweighed by her need to see her son grow up, and Moore demonstrates all Mrs. Johnstone’s agony. Moore is a Dora recipient, the Toronto theatre award named for her grandmother.
Paul McQuillan as Mickey and Tory Doctor as Eddie both handle the roles perfectly. They are hilarious as seven year olds – Mickey filthy dirty from playing in the streets, while Eddie is neatly dressed in his sweater vest. The two reminded me of Mike Myers playing Simon in the bathtub on Saturday Night Live.
Bobby Prochaska is excellent as the narrator singing his commentary and walking about sombrely as he watches the action unfold, foreshadowing the tragedy. Laura McCarthy gives us a perfect Linda – she starts out as a tomboy, playing on the streets with kids, and then falls in love with Mickey. Michael Lomenda portrays Sammy, Mickey’s brother. Lomenda is exceptional, starting out as a bully, turning into an unfeeling criminal before our eyes. His role is a far cry from the Mr. Nice Guy Cornie Collins he just finished playing in Hairspray on the HCP stage.
The rest of the cast handles multiple roles, singing the stirring “Tell Me It’s Not True” together on stage in the final tragic scene.
Despite the lack of a happy ending, Blood Brothers will prove popular, even in Grand Bend in the summer, thanks to Charlotte Moore’s superior performance and the talented cast.
Blood Brothers continues with eight shows a week until July 23 at Huron Country Playhouse and then until August 13 at Penetanguishene. Tickets are available at Drayton Entertainment at 1-888-449-4463, or check www.draytonentertainment.com