Blood Brothers (musical)
20th Anniversary London Poster
|Productions||1983 West End
1994 UK tour
2006 US tour
2008 UK tour
2009 UK tour
2010 UK tour
North West Tour 2012
|Awards||Olivier Award for Best New Musical|
Blood Brothers is a musical with musics, lyrics and a book by Willy Russell, based loosely on the 1844 novella The Corsican Brothers by Alexandre Dumas. The story is a contemporary nature vs. nurture plot, revolving around fraternal twins who were separated at birth. The twins' different backgrounds take them 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 tear in their friendship and leading to the tragic deaths of both brothers.
Originally developed as a school play, Blood Brothers debuted in Liverpool before Russell transferred it to 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 Noël Coward Theatre for 3 years.
After transferring to the Phoenix Theatre in 1991, Blood Brothers spent more than 24 years in the West End, and played more than 10,000 performances, becoming the third longest-running musical production in West End history. The West End revival closed in November 2012. The musical has been produced with success on tour, on Broadway and elsewhere, and it has developed a cult following.
Willy Russell originally wrote and presented Blood Brothers as a school play in 1982, in conjunction with Merseyside Young People's Theatre (MYPT, Now operating as Fuse: New Theatre For Young People). He then developed the musical for a production at the Liverpool Playhouse, in 1983, starring Barbara Dickson and Andrew C. Wadsworth. 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. The story is an updated version of the 1844 novella The Corsican Brothers by Alexandre Dumas, père. In an interview with the Daily Telegraph, Russell denied the influence of Dumas's work; instead his work was based on "one-act play...about two babies switched at birth...it became the seed for Blood Brothers.
Blood Brothers had a year-long national tour beginning in 1987, produced by Bill Kenwright (and directed by Kenwright and Bob Tomson), leading to a revival at the Albery Theatre, opening on 28 July 1988 and moving out of that theatre on 16 November 1991. The original cast was led by Kiki Dee as Mrs Johnstone, Warwick Evans as the Narrator, Con O'Neill, who, as Mickey, won the Laurence Olivier Award for Best Actor in 1989 and Robert Locke as Eddie. The musical transferred to the Phoenix Theatre on 21 November 1991, where it closed 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, 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 is scheduled to continue at least into 2013.
The central role of Mrs. Johnstone has been played by, among others, 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), Niki Evans, Amy Robbins, Natasha Hamilton and Vivienne Carlyle. Mickey has been played by Stephen McGann, Paul Crosby, Antony Costa and Stefan Dennis. Notable actors to play Eddie include Mark Michael Hutchinson. Past Narrators include Warwick Evans, Carl Wayne, David Soul and Marti Pellow.
The musical has toured in the UK intermittently since August 1995, when it opened at the Birmingham Hippodrome with Helen Reddy as Mrs Johnstone. It has played on and off ever since, including tours in 2008 and 2010. Marti Webb (in 2008) and Niki Evans (in 2010/2011) each played Mrs. Johnston. The show ended in London in November 2012, however it still continues to tour the UK. The current tour features Maureen Nolan as Mrs Johnstone. Warwick Evans reprises the role of Narrator and Sean Jones plays Mickey; Warwick and Sean were both invited back to play the last two weeks of the West End run at the Phoenix.
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. Several of the British actors made their Broadway debuts, including Stephanie Lawrence as Mrs. Johnstone, Con O'Neill as Mickey, Jan Graveson as Linda, Mark Michael Hutchinson as Eddie and Warwick Evans as the narrator. Kerry Butler made her Broadway debut in the ensemble. In order to boost box office sales, Bill Kenwright convinced Petula Clark to make her Broadway debut as Mrs. Johnstone, with David Cassidy and Shaun Cassidy as her sons. The casting of Jack Cassidy's two eldest sons as the titular brothers generated much publicity at the time, although, in reality, David and Shaun are only half-brothers - their respective mothers being Jack Cassidy's two wives, Evelyn Ward and Shirley Jones. Furthermore, there is an eight year age difference between the ostensible "twins".
Petula Clark later starred in the US national tour from 1994–95. Clark and the Cassidys also recorded the international cast album, with Willy Russell as the Narrator. Following Clark's portrayal, Mrs. Johnstone was played by other 1960s pop singers, with Carole King and Helen Reddy later playing the role on Broadway. Many of the cast members were also in the Canadian run, which starred David Cassidy, Michael Burgess and Canadian singer-songwriter Amy Sky
The musical received Tony Award nominations for best musical, best book and best direction, and Stephanie Lawrence (best actress), Con O Neill (best actor) and Jan Graveson (best featured actress) were all nominated for their performances in the original Broadway cast.
South African adaptation
David Kramer adapted and directed the South African version, which he set in District Six, a predominantly Coloured inner-city residential area in Cape Town during the Apartheid era. This was the first time that Willy Russell had allowed the musical to be adapted. 
- Act One
Around the beginning of the 1960s, Mrs Johnstone is deep 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 wealthy local couple, Mr and Mrs Lyons. Soon she finds out she is pregnant but she can barely afford to raise the child.
Mrs. Lyons is desperate for a baby but is unable to conceive, and would like to adopt a child but her husband does not agree. 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. Mrs Johnstone apprehensively agrees to this and is made to swear on The Bible to keep to the deal. Mrs Johnstone has the twins (Mickey and Edward), but then regrets having agreed to give one away. She lies to her other children, saying that the other baby had died and gone to heaven.
Mrs. Johnstone continues to work for Mrs Lyons, 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, 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". Mrs Johnstone refuses to take the money that Mrs Lyons gave her and leaves without the child and money.
Seven years later, Mickey, the son Mrs. Johnstone kept, meets Edward, the other twin, 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, and Mrs Lyons throws him out. 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 policeman when about to throw stones through a window. Mrs Lyons tries to find Eddie. She 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 realises she is becoming ill. When Eddie says goodbye, Mrs Johnstone gives him a locket with a picture of herself and Mickey, as the boys separate.
The scene shifts to the time around the end of the 1960s when the Johnstone family are being rehoused from the condemned inner city slum area of Liverpool to a new council house in the nearby overspill town of Skelmersdale.
- Act Two
It is now the mid 1970s and Eddie, Mickey and Linda are 14 years old. The Johnstones' lives have improved since moving, 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 after mouthing off to their teacher. Eddie is suspended from his boarding school for refusing to give up Mrs Johnstone's locket to a teacher, but he will not tell his mother who it was from. 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 recognize each other. They become friends again, each wanting to be like the other. They finally realize who the other is and meet up with Linda. Mrs Lyons flies into a rage and tries to kill Mrs Johnstone, but she couldn't and Mrs Johnstone just showed her out of the door.
Four years later, an 18-year-old Eddie has feelings for Linda, but will not say anything, as he knows Mickey likes her too. Eddie leaves for university, but not before encouraging Mickey to ask Linda out. During Eddie's absence, around the turn of the 1980s, Mickey is made redundant from his factory job due to the recession, which forces him onto the dole. He soon discovers that Linda is pregnant, and they decide to get married. Eddie returns at Christmas ready to party and have fun, but Mickey realizes that they are now very different; after a small fight with Eddie, they part. To get money, Mickey assists his brother Sammy in a robbery that goes wrong, and becomes an accessory to a murder committed by Sammy. He is sentenced to seven years in prison.
In prison, Mickey falls into a deep depression. When released early for good behaviour, he is still dependent on anti-depressants, and he turns away from Linda. Linda, unable to get Mickey off the anti-depressants, contacts Eddie, who is now a councillor, and he gets them their own house and gets Mickey a job. Linda worries about Mickey and meets up with Eddie. Mrs Lyons sees them together and tells Mickey about it. 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.
There, Eddie is giving a speech when Mickey storms in with the gun. Mickey asks why, even though Eddie has everything and Mickey has nothing, 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, Mickey lowers the gun. 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 story ends when the police misinterpret this action and gun Mickey down as he accidentally shoots Eddie, killing them both. Mrs Lyons's superstitious prediction has come true, and the Narrator questions whether class was more to blame than superstition.
The story ends some time around the mid 1980s with the deaths of Mickey and Edward.
- 1983 Original London Cast Recording of Blood Brothers
- 1988 London Cast of Blood Brothers
- 1994 Australian Cast of Blood Brothers
- 1995 London Cast of Blood Brothers (musical album)
- 1995 International Cast Recording of Blood Brothers
Awards and nominations
Original London production
|1983||Laurence Olivier Award||Best New Musical||Won|
|Best Actress in a Musical||Barbara Dickson||Won|
1988 London revival
|1988||Laurence Olivier Award||Best Actor in a Musical||Con O'Neill||Won|
|1988||Best Actress in a Musical||Kiki Dee||Nominated|
|2010||Laurence Olivier Award||Best Actress in a Musical||Melanie Chisholm||Nominated|
Original Broadway production
|1993||Drama Desk Award||Outstanding Actor in a Musical||Con O'Neill||Nominated|
|Outstanding Featured Actor in a Musical||Mark Michael Hutchinson||Won|
|Tony Award||Best Musical||Nominated|
|Best Book of a Musical||Willy Russell||Nominated|
|Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Musical||Con O'Neill||Nominated|
|Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Musical||Stephanie Lawrence||Nominated|
|Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Musical||Jan Graveson||Nominated|
|Best Direction of a Musical||Bill Kenwright and Bob Tomson||Nominated|
- "Blood Brothers celebrates 22nd Birthday". Westendtheatre.com, accessed 17 December 2010
-  Willy Russell: Blood Brothers
- London Theatre Guide (2008). The Laurence Olivier Awards: Full List of Winners 1976–2008 (.PDF). The Society of London Theatre. Retrieved 30 August 2008.
- Lamb, Andrew. 150 Years of Popular Musical Theatre, p. 346, Yale University Press, 2000 ISBN 0-300-07538-3
- "Natasha Hamilton 'Mrs Johnstone' in Blood Brothers 24 Jan" londontheatre.co.uk. London Theatre Guide, 5 November 2010
- "Warwick Evans, Lynn Paul and Mark Hutchinson back in Blood Brothers" westend.broadwayworld.com, 27 October 2012
- Tour, 2008 willyrussell.com
- "Musical Theatre Legend Marti Webb Joins Legendary Musical Blood Brothers" apollovictorialondon.org.uk, 25 November 2008
- Cole, Simon."X Factor's Niki Evans Joining 'Blood Brothers' Tour" whatsonstage.com, 25 May 2010
- Blood Brothers, theatre.asn.au
- Blood Brothers at PetulaClark.net
- "Blood Brothers adapted for South Africa"
- Russell, Willy. Blood Brothers. London: Samuel French, 1985. 1-36.
- Russell, Willy. Blood Brothers. London: Samuel French, 1985. 37-70.
- kenwright.com Official website
- Blood Brothers at the Internet Broadway Database
- Interview with Lyn Paul, who plays Mrs Johnston, Liverpool Daily Post, 28 December 2007