Blood Brothers

BB-DicksonOriginal London Cast, 1983 (Castle) 1 Stars (1 / 5) This is the story of Mrs. Johnstone, a lower-class Liverpudlian whose husband deserts her, even though she’s pregnant and already has seven children. Having determined that she can afford to care for only one more child, Mrs. J. is devastated to learn that she’s to have twins. In desperation, she agrees to let her rich employer, Mrs. Lyons, take one of the babies to raise as her own. At age seven, the two non-identical twin boys — Mrs. J’s Mickey and Mrs. L’s Eddie — improbably meet and become fast friends, unaware that they are siblings. Years later, this melodramatic situation leads to tragedy, explicated in ominous tones by a Narrator. It’s easy to make fun of Blood Brothers, and indeed, it inspired a hilarious Forbidden Broadway spoof. With book, music, and lyrics by Willy Russell, the show leaves much to be desired in terms of professional polish, yet it has sincerity. Some of the lyrics don’t quite fit the music, and there are some false rhymes (“chap/chat”) along with some neat ones (“soldier/told yer”). Frequent references to a certain screen goddess become annoying: In the first version of a song titled “Marilyn Monroe,” most of these references are apt and clever, but they become strained to the point of ridiculousness in subsequent numbers. On the whole, Russell’s music is better than his lyrics; the melodies of “Sunday Afternoon,” “Easy Terms,” and “Tell Me It’s Not True” are haunting, while “Bright New Day” is joyous. Some melodies recur with added impact, as when the tune of “My Child,” sung early on by the two mothers, is later used for “My Friend,” the two boys’ declaration of their bond with each other. The strong cast of the first recording is led by Barbara Dickson as Mrs. Johnstone, George Costigan as Mickey, Andrew C. Wadsworth as Eddie, and Andrew Schofield as the Narrator, but the score’s virtues are undermined by keyboard-and-synthesizer-heavy arrangements. — Michael Portantiere

BB-1988London Cast, 1988 (RCA) 3 Stars (3 / 5) This recording is superior to its predecessor, offering better arrangements/orchestrations and more music — about 15 minutes’ worth. Oddly, the song originally called “The Devil’s Got Your Number” is now called “Shoes Upon the Table.” Other titles have changed as well. Kiki Dee is very good as Mrs. Johnstone, and Con O’Neill is the best Mickey in all the recordings under review. (He would go on to play the part on Broadway). Also praiseworthy are Robert Locke as Eddie and Warwick Evans as the Narrator. — M.P.

BB-InternationalThe International Recording, 1995 (First Night) 4 Stars (4 / 5) Three starry leads and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra will make this the preferred Blood Brothers recording for many listeners. At over an hour in length, it’s also the most complete of the recordings under review. The singers and the huge orchestra are recorded in a weighty, reverberant acoustic that, depending on one’s taste, makes the score seem lush and important or somewhat heavy and pretentious. The soaring overture is a far cry from the synthesized sound of the first Blood Brothers cast album, and the famous lead singers are excellent. Petula Clark, a one-time pop star with impressive stage and film credits, has a compelling, soulful voice that’s perfect for Mrs. Johnstone. The erstwhile American teen idols David and Sean Cassidy, half-brothers in real life, sing very well as Mickey and Eddie, and their Brit accents are quite convincing. The Narrator here is Willy Russell, who wrote the show’s book, music, and lyrics. — M.P.

BB-1995London Cast, 1995 (First Night) 3 Stars (3 / 5) This recording is worth tracking down primarily for the performance of Stephanie Lawrence, who also played Mrs. Johnstone in Blood Brothers on Broadway in 1993. Heading a fine cast that includes Paul Crosby, Rod Edwards, and Mark Hutchinson (who played Eddie on Broadway), Lawrence is in a class by herself as Mrs. J. The fact that she died at age 50 in 2000, about five years after this recording, makes the disc even more valuable as a memento of her deeply committed, heartbreaking characterization. — M.P.