Review by Danny Gaisin
Our first exposure to Willy Russell’s musical tragedy,” BLOOD BROTHERS” was coincidently, ten years ago- almost to the day. It was then staged by Clarkson Music Theatre and starred Jo Kemp (also coincidently was in the audience for last night’s iteration). Second version: – Sheridan’s 2012 marvelous Studio Theatre adaptation. WEST END STUDIO THEATRE under the direction of Yo Mustafa has taken the play’s starkness to a new level and its impact is thus intensified. A totally bare stage; minute & momentary props plus concentrated harsh spotlighting are the only ancillaries to the dialogue or vocal solos & duets.
The plot, in brief, deals with a single mother of seven barely able to make ends meet, is expecting twins. Her childless employer offers to take one of the twins to raise as her own and a biblical contract is committed with dire omens if abrogated. Eight years later, the two boys, diametrically opposite in background and status; meet, become best friends and declare a Blood Brother relationship. Later, off again/on again reconnections and a love interest bring about the foretold premonitions.
Mustafa’s underscoring the circa 1960’s references to news, industrial recession, and exaggerated hormonal growth enhance the moments of hilarity in what is otherwise a bleak and foreboding play. Russell’s composing (like A.L. Webber’s motifs) relies on repetition with just modifications of the lyrics, especially utilized by the actual mother of the twins and the ‘narrator’; definitively the second most important role in the cast. Spouting a strong accent, Doug Massey seems continually on stage with only moments of sideline allow emphasis on the other characters. His voice, diction and attention to the audience make his role pivotal and indispensable.
Mrs. Johnstone, (who in the words of Judge Robin Camp, should have kept her knees together) is incredibly portrayed by Claire Prendergast whose voice and acting skills are certainly equal to the role’s demands. Her range requisites are being subordinate and intimidated; to determined, and fortitudinal. She also sings the four or more renderings (with varying lyrics) of the ‘Marilyn Monroe’ composition that iterates the play’s and her financial and emotional progress.
Her parental counterpart is played by Aimee Kessler Evans whose enunciation and phraseology, coupled with a fine if somewhat husky soprano voice, enable her to express all the diverse moods of her role. She’s paired with Chris Reid as her slightly condescending husband. It’s rare seeing such a talent as Reid’s in a strictly support role. Like him, strong plot backing is contributed by Heather Spares whose interpretations of the maturing ‘Linda’, the girl-friend love interest, is both credible and integral to the plotline.
The pivotal roles of the two boys, Mickey & Eddie are ably elucidated by Danny Deakin and Vincent Perri respectively. The former has the greater on-stage time and the more demanding role changes as the twins mature. Deakin occasionally resorts to physically overemphasize moments with body movements and facial expression; while Perri understates his role reading. Thus, perfectly balanced directorial instruction, followed to a ‘T”.
There is substantial support from the swing cast-members who advance small iconic roles as well as serving as stage crew with the modest prop movements. The only negative; the piano keyboard background tended to overwhelm any un-miked dialogue. “BLOOD BROTHERS” is at the Oakville Centre for the Arts until Feb. 12th.
– Reminder, Navy Street N of Lakeshore has been traffic re-arranged! Finally, a personal warning from the cast & composer Russell… “♫ The Devil’s got your number ♪” .