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Blood Brothers

Blood Brothers - britishheritage.org

Blood Brothers is a musical with book, lyrics, and music by Willy Russell. The story revolves around fraternal twins Mickey and Eddie, separated at birth, one raised in a wealthy family, the other in a poor family. The musical won the Laurence Olivier Award for Best New Musical and went on national tour before returning for a revival in the West End in 1988. The revival ran for more than 27 years in the West End, more than 10,000 performances, becoming the third longest-running musical production in West End history. Russell says that his work was based on a one-act play that he read as a child "about two babies switched at birth ... it became the seed for Blood Brothers."

Blood Brothers is a musical with book, lyrics, and music by Willy Russell. The story is a contemporary nature versus nurture plot, revolving around fraternal twins Mickey and Eddie, who were separated at birth, one subsequently being raised in a wealthy family, the other in a poor family. The different environments take the twins to opposite ends of the social spectrum, one becoming a councillor, and the other unemployed and in prison. They both fall in love with the same girl, causing a rift in their friendship and leading to the tragic death of both brothers. Russell says that his work was based on a one-act play that he read as a child "about two babies switched at birth ... it became the seed for Blood Brothers."

Originally developed as a school play, Blood Brothers debuted in Liverpool before Russell transferred it to the West End for a short run in 1983. The musical won the Laurence Olivier Award for Best New Musical and went on to a year-long national tour before returning for a revival in the West End in 1988 where it stayed at the Albery Theatre for 3 years, transferring to the Phoenix Theatre in 1991. The revival ran for more than 27 years in the West End, and played more than 10,000 performances, becoming the third longest-running musical production in West End history. It finally closed in November 2012. The musical has been produced with success on tour, on Broadway and elsewhere, and it has developed a cult following.

Original production

Willy Russell originally wrote and presented Blood Brothers as a school play first performed at Fazakerley Comprehensive School, Liverpool, in November 1981, in conjunction with Merseyside Young People's Theatre (MYPT; now operating as Fuse: New Theatre For Young People). He then wrote a score and developed the musical for a production at the Liverpool Playhouse, opening on 8th January 1983, starring Barbara Dickson (Mrs. Johnstone), Andrew Schofield (narrator), George Costigan (Mickey) and Andrew C. Wadsworth (Eddie). It was only a modest success. Nevertheless, the show transferred to London's West End on 11 April 1983 at the Lyric Theatre and ran until 22 October 1983, winning the Olivier Award for Best New Musical and another Olivier for Dickson's performance. This was followed by a 1984 UK tour.

1988–2012 West End

Blood Brothers year-long national tour beginning in 1987, produced by Bill Kenwright (and directed by Kenwright and Bob Tomson), starring Kiki Dee as Mrs Johnstone, Warwick Evans as the Narrator, Con O'Neill as Mickey and Robert Locke as Eddie, leading to a revival at the Albery Theatre (now the Noël Coward Theatre), directed by Tomson, with the same cast. O'Neill won an Olivier Award for his performance, and Dee was nominated. It opened on 28 July 1988 and moved out of that theatre on 16 November 1991. The musical transferred to the Phoenix Theatre on 21 November 1991, where it celebrated its 10th Anniversary with a gala performance on 28 July 1998, featuring Lyn Paul as Mrs Johnstone, Keith Burns (Narrator) Andy Snowden (Mickey) & Mark Hutchinson (Eddie). The show closed its West End run on 10 November 2012. Due to close on 27 October, its run was extended by 2 weeks with returning favourites in the closing cast, including Lyn Paul, original narrator Warwick Evans, Sean Jones as Mickey, Mark Michael Hutchinson as Eddie and Jan Graveson as Linda. It played more than 10,000 performances in London, making it the third longest-running musical to ever play in the West End. The UK tour continued until 2013.

The central role of Mrs. Johnstone has been played in various productions by, among others, Dee, Angela Richards, Barbara Dickson, Stephanie Lawrence, Clodagh Rodgers, Lyn Paul, Siobhan McCarthy, four of the Nolan sisters (Linda, Bernie, Denise and Maureen), Melanie Chisholm (making her West End debut and receiving an Olivier nomination in 2009),Marti Webb, Vivienne Carlyle, Niki Evans,Amy Robbins, Natasha Hamilton,Helen Reddy,Rebecca Storm, Carole King and Petula Clark. Stephanie Lawrence played the role more times than anyone else. Mickey has been played by O'Neill, Russell Boulter, Stephen McGann, Paul Crosby, Antony Costa, Stefan Dennis, Andy Snowden, David Cassidy and Michael J.Cook among others. Notable actors to play Eddie include Hutchinson and Shaun Cassidy. Narrators include Evans, Carl Wayne, Adrian Zmed, David Soul and Marti Pellow. Alex Harland played the small role of the postman in more than 4,000 performances.

Australia

The inaugural Australian production of Blood Brothers premiered August 1988 at the York Theatre in Sydney where it ran for three months: the cast included Chrissy Amphlett as Mrs Johnstone, Bob Baines as the Narrator, Zoe Carides as Linda, Peter Cousens as Edward and Russell Crowe as Mickey. In 1994 a production of Blood Brothers directed by Bill Kenwright - who had overseen the play in the West End and on Broadway - ran in Melbourne and Sydney in the summer and fall having played dates in Wellington and Auckland NZ that spring: the cast included Stefan Dennis as Mickey, Delia Hannah as Mrs. Johnstone, and David Soul as the Narrator.

In 2013 Blood Brothers was produced by the Harvest Rain Theatre Company of Brisbane playing the Cremorne Theatre 3–17 August: directed by Tim O'Connor, the production featured Amanda Muggleton in the role of Mrs. Johnstone. Muggleton had previously played Mrs. Johnstone in the Metcalfe Playhouse (Perth) production of Blood Brothers which ran 11 November – 4 December 2011.

The Chapel Off Chapel venue in Prahran hosted a production of Blood Brothers from 19 March – 6 April 2014: the cast included Chelsea Plumley as Mrs.Johnstone and Peter Hardy and Glenda Linscott as the Lyons.

In 2015 Enda Markey revived Blood Brothers for a 6 February – 15 March engagement at Hayes Theatre Co, reportedly affording the play its first professional production in Sydney since the September 1994 engagement of the play's New Zealand/Australian tour. The play was produced by Enda Markey and directed by Andrew Pole with musical direction by Michael Tyack: the cast included Blake Bowden as Edward, Michael Cormick as the Narrator, Helen Dallimore as Mrs Johnstone, and Bobby Fox as Mickey. The production went on to play for three weeks at the Alex Theatre, St Kilda, Melbourne, from 14 July 2015, with Josh Piterman taking over the role of Edward.

Broadway and U.S. tour

The Broadway production opened on 25 April 1993 at the Music Box Theatre and closed on 30 April 1995 after 840 performances. It was co-directed by Tomson and Kenwright. Several of the British actors made their Broadway debuts, including Lawrence as Mrs. Johnstone, O'Neill as Mickey, Graveson as Linda, Hutchinson as Eddie and Evans as the narrator. Barbara Walsh was Mrs Lyons, and Kerry Butler made her Broadway debut in the ensemble. To boost box office sales during the run, Kenwright persuaded Petula Clark to make her Broadway debut, replacing Lawrence as Mrs. Johnstone, with David and Shaun Cassidy as her sons. The casting of the Cassidy half-brothers as the twins generated much publicity. The musical received Tony Award nominations for best musical, best book and best direction, and Lawrence (best actress), O'Neill (best actor) and Graveson (best featured actress) were all nominated for their performances in the original Broadway production. Following Clark's portrayal, Mrs. Johnstone was played by other 1970s pop singers, with King and Reddy later playing the role on Broadway.

Clark and David Cassidy also starred in the US national tour from 1994 to 1995. Clark and the Cassidys also recorded the international cast album, with Willy Russell as the Narrator. Many of the cast members were also in the Canadian run, which starred David Cassidy, Michael Burgess and Canadian singer-songwriter Amy Sky.

South African adaptation

David Kramer adapted and directed the South African version in 2012, which he set in District Six, a predominantly Coloured inner-city residential area in Cape Town during the Apartheid era, with black cast members. This was the first time that Willy Russell had allowed the musical to be adapted.

Pokrvní bratia (Slovak)

"Pokrvní bratia" - "Blood Brothers", adapted in the Czech-Slovak language - has been produced several times in the Czech Republic and Slovakia, the inaugural production - adapted into Czech-Slovak by Alexandra Ruppeldtová - premiering in December 1993 at the Nová Scéna Theatre in Bratislava and featuring Soňa Valentová in the role of Johnstonová [i.e. Mrs Johnstone]. "Pokrvní bratia" - newly adapted by Martin Fahrner - premiered at the East Bohemian Theatre [cs] in Pardubice in February 2001: a subsequent production of the Fahrner adaptation ran at the Slovácké Theatre [cs] in Uherské Hradiště from 1 October 2001 to 7 June 2002 followed by a production (also à la Farhner) at the J. K. Tyl Theatre in Pilsen which ran from 27 September 2003 to 9 June 2004 with Jitka Smutná [cs] and Stanislava Fořtová-Topinková [cs] alternating in the role of Johnstonová. The premiere Prague engagement of "Pokrvní bratia" - introducing an adaptation by Adam Novák - inaugurated its Palác Blaník [cs] run 17 November 2004: this production would feature Daniela Šinkorová [cs] and Sisa Sklovská alternating in the role of Johnstonová. "Pokrvní bratia" - as adapted by Fahner - was produced by the Liberec-based F. X. Šalda Theatre [cs] whose engagement premiered 23 March 2007: this production would encore in September 2008 as the inaugural production of the Heineken Tower Stage at Tower 115 in Bratislava, where the F. X. Šalda troupe performed "Pokrvní bratia" over three nights. Brno City Theatre revived the Novák adaptation for a production which premiered 2 June 2012 for a 25 performance run during which Hana Holišová and Markéta Sedláčková [cs] alternated in the role of Johnstonová. The Ruppeldtová adaptation of "Pokrvní bratia" was produced at the Jonáš Záborský Theatre [cs] in Prešov for a fifteen performance run premiering 21 September 2012 over which Svetlana Janišová played the role of Johnstonová. The Nová Scéna Theatre staged a revival of the Ruppeldtová adaptation of "Pokrvní bratia" with an 18 September 2015 premiere at the Nová Scéna Theatre with occasional performances til the end of October, with an announced encore run scheduled to premiere 22 March 2017: Jana Lieskovská and Miroslava Partlová [cs], who alternated in the role of Johnstonová in the 2015 Nová Scéna revival, are scheduled to reprise the role in the 2017 Nová Scéna encore production.

Other international productions

In addition to the above, the musical has also been produced in various theatres in Europe, Mexico, Japan, Korea and Canada.

Act One

Some time in the early 1960s, Mrs. Johnstone is heavily in debt and cannot support her seven children after her husband walks out on her, so she takes a job as a cleaner for a local high-class couple, Mr. and Mrs. Lyons. Soon she finds out she is pregnant, but she can barely afford to raise another child - these early events spark the first of several "Marilyn Monroe" and "dancing" themes songs which Mrs. Johnstone sings, reflecting on the events which are occurring in her life. The first song describes her marriage- her husband, flirted with her at a dance, and they embarked on what was supposed to be a whirlwind romance, but Mrs. Johnstone fell pregnant soon after they started dating, forcing them to get married. She found herself pregnant again only months after the birth of their first child, and this has obviously occurred several times, as she is now pregnant for the eighth time.

Mrs. Lyons is desperate for a baby but is unable to conceive, and would like to adopt a child but her husband, who is away on business overseas, is not keen on the idea. Mrs. Johnstone finds out that she is going to have twins and explains to Mrs. Lyons that she cannot afford to raise two more babies. Mrs. Lyons then suggests that Mrs. Johnstone gives one of the babies to her ("My Child"). Mrs. Johnstone apprehensively agrees to this and is made to swear on the Bible to keep to the deal. Mrs. Johnstone has the twins, and names the two children Michael (known as Mickey throughout the play) and Edward in 1963, but then regrets having agreed to give one away ("Easy Terms"). After keeping her deal with Mrs. Lyons, she lies to her other children, saying that the other baby had died and gone to heaven.

Mrs. Johnstone continues to work for the rich family, 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. Mrs. Lyons offers her money which Mrs. Johnstone refuses 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. Lyons again gives Mrs. Johnstone the money and leaves.

In 1971, Mickey, the son of Mrs. Johnstone, meets Edward, the other twin, by chance, and after learning they share the same birthday, the two boys make a pact to become blood brothers, with Mickey calling Edward "Eddie". Mrs. Johnstone finds them and sends Eddie away, telling him not to come round again or else the "Bogey-man" will get him. Later in the day, Mickey goes to Eddie's house, but Mrs. Lyons throws him out when she comes to the realization that he is Edward's separated twin. She and Eddie argue on the subject, and Eddie swears at her. Mrs. Lyons slaps him and immediately regrets her reaction. She realises that he has learned to swear from Mickey.

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, but are caught by a police officer when about to throw stones through a window. Mrs. Lyons becomes worried about Eddie's friendship with Mickey, as she has started to believe the superstition that she herself had made up. She decides to move and persuades her husband, who realizes she is becoming ill and the sees the effect the poorer children are having on his son. When Eddie says goodbye, Mrs. Johnstone gives him a locket with a picture of herself and Mickey, and the boys separate.

Soon afterwards, the Johnstone family are rehoused from the condemned inner city slum area of Liverpool to a new council house in the nearby overspill town of Skelmersdale ("Bright New Day").

Act Two

Act Two rejoins the twins when they are 14 years old in 1977. The Johnstone family are enjoying a better life now they have moved to a new home and a new area, and they have not seen Eddie in all this time. Mickey has a crush on Linda, who is obviously interested in him too, but Mickey does not know how to act with her. Both of them are suspended from school after insulting their teacher. Meanwhile, Eddie is suspended from his boarding school for refusing to give up his locket to a teacher, but he will not tell his mother about it, even after she sees the pictures of it ("Secrets"). Mrs Lyons sees Mrs Johnstone near her house and her worries are renewed. Eddie and Mickey bump into each other in a field, but do not initially recognize each other. With each wanting to be like the other before finally realizing who the other is and become friends again ("That Guy"). Mrs Lyons confronts Mrs Johnstone and accuses her of following her family to stay close to Edward; Mrs Lyons then flies into a rage and tries to kill Mrs Johnstone, but is stopped and runs away.

Four years later, in 1981 (when the play was written, reflecting real-time), an 18-year-old Eddie has feelings for Linda but hasn't said anything, as he knows Mickey likes her ("I'm Not Saying A Word"). Eddie leaves for university, but not before encouraging Mickey to ask Linda out. During Eddie's absence Linda becomes pregnant, she and Mickey are married and move in with Mrs Johnstone, Mickey is then made redundant from his factory job due to the recession in 1981s, which forces him onto the dole shortly before Christmas ("Miss Jones"). Eddie returns at Christmas ready to party and have fun, but Mickey realizes that they are now very different; after a small argument with Eddie, they part. Mickey is persuaded to assist his brother Sammy in a robbery, to earn money to support Linda and the baby. The robbery goes wrong, and he becomes an accessory to a murder committed by Sammy. He is sentenced to seven years in prison.

In prison, Mickey is diagnosed as chronically depressed. When released early for good behaviour, he is still dependent on anti-depressants. He becomes withdrawn and turns away from Linda ("Marilyn Monroe 3"). Linda, unable to get Mickey off the anti-depressants, contacts Eddie, who is now a councillor, and he gets them their own house and Mickey a job ("Light Romance"). Linda worries about Mickey and meets up with Eddie. Mrs Lyons sees them together and tells Mickey about it, implying that the two are having an affair. Mickey, distraught over Eddie and Linda's 'affair,' grabs the gun that Sammy hid before he got arrested and then storms down to the council offices to confront Eddie ("Madman").

There, Eddie is giving a speech when Mickey storms in with the gun. Mickey asks why 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 in and, in an attempt to stop Mickey from shooting Eddie, tells the two brothers the truth. Mickey despairs that he was not the one given away, because then he could have had the life given to Eddie. Mickey, distraught, gestures carelessly with the gun towards Eddie. The gun goes off killing Eddie, with the police then shooting and killing Mickey. Mrs. Lyons's superstitious prediction has come true, and the narrator questions whether class was more to blame than superstition ("Tell Me It's Not True").

Alternate Ending

In another version, Mickey has a fake gun, and when Ms. Johnstone rushes to stop him and reveals the truth, which provokes Ms. Lyons to attempt to shoot Mickey in order to keep her own child. Eddie jumps in and takes the bullet, and Ms. Lyons shoots Mickey in rage. This version ends with the narrator’s monologue.

So did you ever hear the tale of the Johnston twins

As like each other two new pins,

How one was kept, one given away

They were born and they died on the self same day.

1983

1987

1993

1994

2015

2019


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