Tuesday, June 12, 2012

'Blood Brothers' - another legendary musical

People (myself included) are often initially surprised to hear that Blood Brothers has been on in London since 1988, making it the third longest running musical in London's West End, because they have never heard of the show before. I imagine one of the reasons for this to be that Blood Brothers was never particularly successful outside of Great Britain: where all the other long running shows such as Phantom and Les Mis also became famous on Broadway, Blood Brothers only played a 2-year Broadway run and one year-long national tour. (Thank you to the amazing Wikipedia for all this information.)


Blood Brothers at Phoenix Theatre, London
Performance: Wednesday 23rd May 2012 at 19:45
Seat: Stalls right, second row (very close to the stage but the stage slopes so the view was fine)
Cast included: Vivienne Carlyle (Mrs Johnstone), Philip Stewart (Narrator), Mark Rice-Oxley (Mickey), Paul Christopher (Eddie), Abigail Jaye (Mrs Lyons), Louise Clayton (Linda), Michael Southern (Sammy), Kevin Pallister (Mr Lyons)

Plot summary for those not familiar with Blood Brothers: It is the story of Mickey and Eddie, twins separated at birth, out of whom one grows up in the wealthy Lyons family and the other in poorer conditions with Mrs Johnstone (the biological mother) but both equally unaware they have a twin brother and the mothers are determined to keep it that way. However, at the age of 7 the boys happen to meet each other and they become the best of friends.
They've made a Blood Brothers stamp!

Blood Brothers is a remarkable musical. I should like to say it is more like a musical play than a musical. That is not because there isn't enough singing in it but rather because one cannot classify it as full-on cheesy, I think. Blood Brothers is about death (no, that's not a spoiler because that's revealed right at the start!) and economic depression. The show has become increasingly relevant again now that the economic situation is not looking promising and even though its setting is very specific in terms of location and historical context, Blood Brothers can be enjoyed also by those who do not have this background knowledge. The one thing I would point out to those whose first language is not English, though: some of the characters speak in a fairly strong accent so you may not catch absolutely everything they say. Don't be frightened off by that though, and I thought this one was easier to understand than Billy Elliot.

One would expect Mickey and Eddie to be the main characters and in a way yes, they are the ones referred to in the title and without them there really would not be a story to tell. However, it is Mrs Johnstone who sings and is featured the most along with the narrator who eerily hovers around. The part of Mrs Johnstone has been portrayed by many famous singers because that distinct musical theatre voice is not essential to play the part. And now that we are on the characteristics of Blood Brothers that make it different to most musicals, I might mention that it does not have tons of those spectacular in-real-life-no-one-would-dance-there-like-that kind of dance numbers - you know what I mean. 

All of the cast did a great job, especially Vivienne Carlyle as Mrs Johnstone and Louise Clayton as Linda. The former had a very pleasant singing voice and the latter succeeded particularly well in conveying Linda's aging process (one could really see her getting old before her time). Abigail Jaye also had a gorgeous voice (a little more of a musical theatre one) and she is the understudy for Mrs Johnstone - it would be most interesting to see her play that part. On the whole, however, I don't think this musical is as much about who's in it. People will go and see it regardless because it has gained the classic status

Tell Me It's Not True from the 1995 London cast recording (if people know one song from the musical, it is usually this one): 


  1. Blood Brothers is one of my favourites. It never fails to make me cry! The characters are all so believable and real.

    I imagine it never made it to the same extent in America because they can't relate to the gritty Liverpool accent and working class setting.

    1. Yes, I know what you mean. I doubt I would understand the show in the same way had I not lived in the UK. The setting of 'Blood Brothers' is so specific. A friend of mine pointed out that some shows, like 'Matilda' for instance, may well make it big in the USA because they are SO English (in general terms, stereotypically) that Americans will find them entertaining. However, 'Blood Brothers' doesn't quite go into that category.
      Despite not doing that well abroad, the show has still held its stand which I think is great :)

  2. This musical has always confused me - I knew it's been playing since forever in West End, but meeting people who actually like it is surprisingly hard... But I suppose I'll see the Finnish version when it premieres, curious to find out what this is about!

    1. 'Blood Brothers' has got its own little bunch of fans. It's just in no measure comparable to these big blockbuster musicals because it is so very different and I think that, to some extent, alienates people a little bit.

      I am intrigued to find out how the Finnish production turns out and whether it will make a similar impact on the Finnish population as the West End one has made in the UK. That will also be down to whether they have decided to stick to the original script and setting or whether they have altered them slightly and transformed them into something that is more familiar to a member of the Finnish public.

  3. Like Siiri, I don't think I know anyone who is actually a fan of Blood Brothers, but obviously there must be something in it. I usually need more fantasy elements in my musicals, but I guess I'll go and see the Finnish production next year just to see what's the legend about.

    "I should like to say it is more like a musical play than a musical. That is not because there isn't enough singing in it but rather because one cannot classify it as full-on cheesy, I think."

    The musical genre is actually really wide, the cheesiest musicals just usually are the most well-known ones. It slightly annoys me when people think that "musical = cheesy musical" when there's so much variety, because I'm not a fan of the cheesiest works and the stereotype makes it hard for me to say that I like musicals. :P No offense, just a note.

    1. I am hoping to go and see the Finnish production too. I am very intrigued as to how they will make it work in Finnish with it being culturally such an English musical. But then, they have managed 'My Fair Lady' of which I thought the same thing so I'm positive they'll do a good job :) Finns are skilled like that as we have seen on several occasions.

      No offense taken :) I personally think pretty much all musicals are cheesy to an extent though. It's hard to think of any which are not at all. I mean, even 'Blood Brothers' had one of these standard, cheesy jumping around numbers in it but it did not reflect the overall mood of the show. Of course there are many shows like that around.
      I might also point out that by 'cheesy' I personally don't necessarily mean laughable or silly but on occasion just 'over-the-top'. Most musicals fall into that category in one way or the other because when you are watching a musical, you are often very aware of the fact that it isn't real. I hate using the word 'realistic' because you can't really describe theatre like that - theatre is always fake: a bunch of people running around pretending to be someone they aren't - but obviously most of the time musicals divert from real life much more than straight plays do with people bursting out into song and dance sometimes even in mid-sentence.