Blood Brothers (musical)
20th Anniversary London Poster
|Productions||1983 West End
Several UK tours
2006 US tour
|Awards||Olivier Award for Best New Musical|
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. 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 death of both brothers. Andrew Lamb wrote that the musical is based loosely on the 1844 novella The Corsican Brothers by Alexandre Dumas, père, but in a 2012 interview with the Daily Telegraph, Russell denied the influence of Dumas's work, saying 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 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 24 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.
- 1 Production history
- 2 Plot
- 3 Musical numbers
- 4 Albums
- 5 Awards and nominations
- 6 References
- 7 External links
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 wrote a score and developed the musical for a production at the Liverpool Playhouse, in 1983, starring Barbara Dickson, 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 had a 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 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, Sean Jones as Micky, 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 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, 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, Stephen McGann, Paul Crosby, Antony Costa, Stefan Dennis and David Cassidy, among others. Notable actors to play Eddie include Hutchinson and Shaun Cassidy. Narrators include Evans, Carl Wayne, David Soul and Marti Pellow. Alex Harlan played the small role of the postman in more than 4,000 performances.
The musical has toured in the UK six times, the first beginning in August 1995, when it opened at the Birmingham Hippodrome with Helen Reddy as Mrs Johnstone. Other tours included ones in 2008 and 2010, with Marti Webb (in 2008) and Niki Evans (in 2010/2011) as Mrs. Johnston. The 2012 tour featured Maureen Nolan as Mrs Johnstone. Warwick Evans reprised the role of Narrator and Sean Jones played Mickey; Warwick and Jones were both invited back to play the last two weeks of the West End run at the Phoenix.
A new production was presented at Hayes Theatre in Sydney in February 2015. Produced by Enda Markey with direction by Andrew Pole and musical direction by Michael Tyack, the production starred Helen Dallimore as Mrs Johnstone, Michael Cormick as the Narrator, Bobby Fox as Mickey and Blake Bowden as Edward. This production will tour to Melbourne in July 2016 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 cast. 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 1994–95. 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.
Other international productions
In addition to the above, the musical has also been produced in various theatres in Europe, and in Mexico, Japan and Canada.
- 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 her other children as it is.
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. 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, 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 offers her and leaves without it and without the child.
Almost eight years later, Mickey, the son Mrs. Johnstone kept, 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.
The scene shifts to the time around the end of the 1960s when the Johnstone family is 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. Meanwhile, 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, even after she sees the pictures in it. 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 before finally realizing who the other is and meeting up with Linda. 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 loses her nerve at the last minute and instead runs away.
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, by the beginning 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 in the mid-1980s, 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 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. 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.
- 1983 Original London Cast Recording
- 1988 London Cast Recording
- 1995 Australian Cast Recording
- 1994 Broadway Cast Recording
- 1995 London Cast Recording
- 1995 International Cast Recording
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|
- Lamb, Andrew. 150 Years of Popular Musical Theatre, p. 346, Yale University Press, 2000 ISBN 0-300-07538-3
- Levin, Angela. "Willy Russell: 'I want to talk about things that matter'", Daily Telegraph, 15 October 2012, accessed 15 October 2014
- "Blood Brothers celebrates 22nd Birthday". Westendtheatre.com, accessed 17 December 2010
-  Willy Russell: Blood Brothers
- "Willy Russell Archive Catalogue Blood Brothers – Musical", Liverpool John Moores University libraries, 2012
- London Theatre Guide (2008). "The Laurence Olivier Awards: Full List of Winners 1976–2008" (.PDF). The Society of London Theatre. Retrieved 30 August 2008.
- "Natasha Hamilton 'Mrs Johnstone' in Blood Brothers 24 Jan" londontheatre.co.uk. London Theatre Guide, 5 November 2010
- "Warwick Evans, Lyn Paul and Mark Hutchinson back in Blood Brothers" westend.broadwayworld.com, 27 October 2012
- Ellacott, Vivyan. "London Musicals 2012", Over the Footlights, p. 24
- 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 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