Saturday, October 18, 2008

REVIEW - Blood Brothers

Blood Brothers
book, music and lyrics by Willy Russell
directed by Bryan Rasmussen
Whitefire Theatre
through November 23
Playwright Willy Russell, like most bold and sensitive writers, envisions something better for his brood of protagonists. Life for many of them, in Britain's lower middle class, is stifling: it depletes the mind as well as the pursestrings. Rita in Educating Rita seeks enlightenment; Shirley in Shirley Valentine wants real appreciation as a woman; Mickey's impoverished mother in Blood Brothers unconsciously wishes that the son she gave away reluctantly at birth will reap the benefits of his new privileged family. As most major changes incur imperfections, there is a price to be paid, and sometimes that price is human life itself. Bryan Rasmussen's current production of Blood Brothers, which has been his dream child since he first saw the musical on the West End in 1983, is potently unforgettable. Within the small space of the Whitefire Theatre and with the aid of an outstanding cast, Russell's obsession with the effects of socio-economic struggle - the play is now placed in Southcentral Los Angeles - reverberates with the utmost clarity.
The winning ensemble is headed by Pamela Taylor as Mrs. Johnstone. Underprivileged and heartbroken, Johnstone is embued by Taylor with the tiniest grain of hope that shines brightly even at the end. Her performance both in word and song is a stunner. Eduardo Enrikez, an immensely talented actor, paints his Mickey with a wired energy and anguish that starts at age 7 and festers on into his all too brief manhood. Ryan Nealy as Eddie and Sita Young as Linda make the sweetest of star-crossed lovers - we want them to be together, knowing all the while that it is out of the question. Judy Norton lends an edgy sensitivity to an otherwise icy, unbending Mrs. Lyons, and Gil Darnell takes the difficult role of the Narrator, a shadow on the wall and transforms him into an attractively imposing figure of authority. Nicolas Mongiardo-Cooper is a scene stealer as the devilish brother Sammy, and the rest: Mueen Jahan, Debra Arnott and Jess Busterna ably portray a number of parts, under Rasmussen's resourceful hand.
"Marilyn Monroe" that opens and "Tell Me It's Not True" that closes the play are haunting musical reminders that the action, as real as it seems, may very well be, like life itself, just an illusion.
Praise also to Victoria Profitt for her excellently practical set depiction of the two social worlds.
Hardly your typical musical, Blood Brothers is real drama with music and stays with you long after the curtain comes down, especially via this heartfelt rendering.
5 out of 5 stars


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