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Evergreen musical returns to the Second City
More than 30 years after Blood Brothers began life as a short play performed in schools the full-blown musical is still packing in the crowds and receiving standing ovations. The applause given to the cast by the audience at the end of the opening night at Birmingham Hippodrome was tremendous – and thoroughly deserved. Running at a little under three hours (including interval), it's a lot of hard work for the actors and actresses and some looked emotionally and physically exhausted at the curtain call. The same goes for some of the audience members who had laughed and cried throughout with the cast.
Written by Willy Russell and set in his native Liverpool, Blood Brothers tells the tale of mother-of-seven Mrs Johnstone who finds she is pregnant with twins after being abandoned by her husband. She is persuaded to give one of the boys to a well-off couple who can't have children of their own. Mickey, the son she keeps, develops into a boisterous troublesome child, while his twin Edward is polite and well-spoken. Nether knows they have a twin but when they accidentally meet at the age of seven (''almost eight'') there is an immediate bond and they become best friends, despite being forbidden to see each other by their 'mums'.
It is sometimes difficult to accept adults taking the role of children on stage but Sean Jones as seven-year-old Mickey and Joel Benedict as Eddie are hilarious. Sean perfectly portrays the rough and tumble child from the back streets of Liverpool, perfecting the art of spitting, pretending to be a cowboy and giggling over swear words. It makes it all the more poignant that we see the children growing up and having to accept the consequences of their actions.
In the second half, we see love blossoming between 18-year-old Mickey and childhood friend Linda (Danielle Corlass) and Eddie moving towards a successful career. Can it all end happily ever after or is there tragedy ahead?
New Seeker: Lyn Paul as Mrs Johnstone
While Mickey, Eddie and Linda dominate the second half the pre-interval action is the domain of Lyn Paul as Mrs Johnstone. Known for her singing skills in the New Seekers in the early 1970s, Lyn is regarded as the definitive Mrs Johnstone after first taking the role in 1997. She is marvellous in this current touring production; you can actually see the change from an optimistic young woman who reminds her husband of Marilyn Monroe to a loving mother who has given all for her family but is ultimately defeated by circumstances beyond her control. Unchanging, though, is her wonderful singing voice that is faultless on numbers like Marilyn Monroe, Easy Terms and Tell Me It's Not True.
Also impressive is Dean Chisnall as the Narrator who spends a lot of time on stage in the shadows but who reveals a fine voice on Shoes Upon the Table which is reprised several times.
The full Blood Brothers musical had its first UK performance outside the West End at Birmingham Hippodrome on August 7, 1995, and has since visited the theatre nine times during UK tours. It is in Birmingham until October 22 but don't be surprised if there are lots more visits in the future. It really is a timeless show.
Blood Brother 2016 UK tour dates:
Until Oct 22: Birmingham Hippodrome; Oct 25 - 29: Billingham Forum; Nov 1 -5: Weymouth Pavilion;
Nov 7 - 12: York Grand Opera House;
Nov 15 - 19: Salford The Lowry;
Nov 21 - 26: Dartford Orchard Theatre;
Nov 28 - Dec 3: Brighton Theatre Royal.