Out of nowhere in the March return of The Rocky Horror Show to the Grand Opera House, narrator Philip Franks suddenly mischievously impersonated Blood Brothers. Oh, how everyone laughed.
That’s rich, your reviewer thought, given that Willy Russell’s tragicomic Liverpool musical is a much better structured spectacle without the drop in quality of song and story in the impossibly dumb second act. by Richard O’Brien that everyone apparently chooses to ignore.
The chance to compare the two hit shows with the Jacobean tragedy finales comes quickly with the return of Blood Brothers to the Cumberland Street theatre, and if there’s a rivalry it can only be in the stacked visitation count .
Rocky horror? Count lost, but he has to head for two full sets of fingers. Blood brothers? The perennial production from Bill Kenwright and Bob Tomson continues to shed blood, sweat and tears, having logged eight tours since 1996.
The ninth is better than ever, bolstered by the return of Niki Evans as Mrs. Johnstone after a decade and the chance to see Sean Jones, so synonymous with Mrs. J’s son Mickey, on his ‘final tour’ after 23 years. the road on and off.
More on than off, with only eight of them in total passed away from Blood Brothers, his latest coming break since 2019 to care for his struggling parents. When impresario Kenwright invited him back for the 2022 tour, Jones agreed, and here he is, 51, “running around like a seven-year-old in a baggy green sweater and cropped pants,” promising to keep going too. long as Kenwright wants him. Like Bob Dylan’s endless tour.
More on Jones’ performance later, but first, what a treat to see Niki Evans bring to life her Mrs. Johnstone, the fateful family secret mother, in a moving performance devastating pathos and pain, Scouse jagged humor, love and desperate resilience.
For Mrs Johnstone, struggling with too many children in an impoverished Liverpool estate and abandoned by her wasteful husband, the discovery that she is pregnant again, this time with twins, is too much for her ever-ever budget.
She can only “afford” one more child, not two, she tells Mrs. Lyons (Paula Tappenden), the barren wife of a posh hill itinerant businessman for whom she makes Household chores.
Too recklessly, a pact is made, one where she gives one of the baby boys to the cold Mrs. Lyons, sparking the superstition that if twins separated at birth find out about each other’s existence, they will die instantly.
Clodagh Rodgers, Stephanie Lawrence, Bernie Nolan, Sharon Byatt, Marti Webb, Maureen Nolan and Lyn Paul all played Mrs. J in York; Evans is the first to do it twice, in her case split by 11.
The first time, in May 2011, your reviewer observed, “Above all, Evans will stick in the spirit, because he is the most real. What makes her performance all the more remarkable is that the mother-of-two from Birmingham had never seen a theatrical performance, except for pantomimes, or heard of Blood Brothers or the impresario Bill Kenwright when he was offered the role on the West End stage after doing the semi-final of The X Factor in 2007”.
Eleven years later, enjoying more rings on the theatrical tree of life, Evans remains a natural for musical theatre, more so than she was for an X Factor-fueled burst of pop stardom.
At 49, her voice is even more powerful, her broad face an expressive canvas for so many emotions, played in a Scouse accent that accentuates light and dark. Evans’ upbringing in the council house and her experiences as a working mother also bring authenticity to the performance, notably in her renditions of the series’ supreme numbers, Tell Me It’s Not True, Marilyn Monroe and EasyTerms.
The harshest songs rightly go to Robbie Scotcher’s ubiquitous narrator, a Faustian debt collector full of social truths and chilling folklore, as he leads the way in Russell’s 1983 cautionary tale.
In football parlance, Blood Brothers is a two-part game, as one side of the drama, comedy, is eventually overwhelmed by the other, tragedy, as it comes to the estranged brothers, the scaly Mickey (Jones) and the scholar Eddie (Joel Benedict).
Divided by class, their paths nevertheless continue to cross through fate, and once again Jones plays it with all the conviction of a man who believes there is no role in musical theater to rival. with Mickey on his journey from cheeky, perfectly innocent child’s play, through tongue-tied teenage love pains for Linda (Carly Burns), to broken, hopeless adult who depends on mind-numbing pills.
More than ever, you notice the changes in his movement, his voice, from jumping to slouch and slumping, up and down. Sean, whatever you do next, thank you for making this reviewer laugh and cry over the years.
Benedict does more than hold on as Eddie, the up-and-coming charmer with a rebellious streak who then turns to fierce political activism as an adviser. The role is more emotionally contained, to emphasize the contrast in upbringing, but nature imbues the brotherly bond in Jones and Benedict’s performances. Burns also shines brightly as the beautiful Linda.
Andy Walmsley’s familiar streetscape, Nick Richings’ lighting, Matt Malone’s musical direction and Dan Samson’s sound design all add to the hard-hitting impact of Russell’s sentimentless yet heartbreaking doomed drama. Evans and Jones, reunited from 2011 to even more telling effect, once again make Blood Brothers a staple.
Blood Brothers, Grand Opera House, York, 7.30pm tonight (04/07/2022) and tomorrow; 2:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m., Saturday. Ticket office: 0844 871 7615.