Blood Brothers is professional, polished, poignant perfection.
Thursday, February 19, 2004
The Pacific Repertory Theatre’s 2004 season opened with a bang last weekend with their first-rate musical production of Blood Brothers. The show blends tragedy and joy with an excellent cast.
Willy Russell, best known for his plays Educating Rita and Shirley Valentine, wrote this Tony-nominated show, first as a straight drama and then as a musical, writing both lyrics and music. The powerful opening scene fast-forwards the audience to the play’s final scene: bullets have been fired, and the cast is looking down upon the two sprawled bodies of the gunned-downed main characters—the fraternal twin “blood brothers.” The rest of the play is like a contemporary mix of “Prince and the Pauper” and “Corsican Brothers,” retelling the life story of the twins via music and lyrics that are consistently well sung, witty, and often poignantly sad.
Blood Brothers is more than a simple morality tale of twin brothers separated as infants, who, after radically different upbringings, reunite (oblivious of their blood bond) as closest friends. It also focuses on two very different mothers, one—the birth mother— unselfishly giving and accepting, while the other’s love is neurotic, stifling and ultimately destructive.
While the entire ensemble cast performs flawlessly, the leads were exceptional. The story is told (and sung) brilliantly, with foreboding and moody overtones, by narrator Timothy Gleason. He portrays life as a game in which the lives of the characters are ruled by a combination of fate and superstitious beliefs. Gleason also perfectly captures the essence of bit parts, playing a milkman, a gynecologist, a lecherous judge and a bullying professor.
Annmarie Martin glows as an actress and songbird in the role of Mrs. Johnstone, an impoverished but indomitable and openhearted recently abandoned mother of seven children who finds herself pregnant with twins.
Tim Meyers has talent and presence to burn as Mickey Johnstone, the twin kept and raised by his birth mother. He is hilarious, displaying superb comedic timing, and makes the transition of adolescence to adult effortlessly.
Robert Brewer as Edward Lyons, the “donated” twin, has a superlative singing voice and convincingly portrays all ages of the sheltered and more inhibited twin. Jessica Carroll shines as Linda, the childhood playmate and later, the love interest of both twins.
MaryAnn Schaupp-Rousseau sings plaintively and does a wonderful job with the somewhat limited and stereotypical character of Mrs. Lyons, the desperate, manipulative, wealthy but barren employer of Mrs. Johnstone who coerces the desperate mother to give her one of the twin babies to raise as her own.
In the opening song “Marilyn Monroe,” Martin tells of her carefree youth and courtship, comparing various aspects of her life to that of the ill-fated blond bombshell. Other memorable songs included: “My Child,” a tender duet about longing sung by Schaupp-Rousseau and Martin; “Easy Terms,” a heart-rending song sung by Martin about her uneasy, clandestine agreement to give up a child she cannot afford to feed; “Long Sunday Afternoon,” a jazzy discord piece nicely rendered by Meyers about missing his best friend, Eddie; “I’m Not Saying a Word,” sung with style and ease by Brewer to Carroll when he realizes that he loves her as much as his brother does. There was also some impressive dance choreography in the upbeat ensemble rendition of “Bright New Day.”
The live musical accompaniment, which could be seen behind the stage through a cyclone fence, was sublime, supporting the action well. The stage set by Steve Judge is done effectively with minimal props that perfectly enhance the action of a play whose strength lies, as it should, in strong characters and intelligent dialogues rather than huge scenery and dazzling effects.
Lighting design by Michael Palumbo is beautifully done, as is the seamless sound design by John Rousseau. Musical direction by Don Daly is marvelous. Believable acting, fantastic delivery and masterful direction by Sid Cato all make for a truly memorable night out.