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Kristen Gale as Mrs. Johnstone and the cast of "Blood Brothers." Photo: Kauffman Photography
Kristen Gale as Mrs. Johnstone and the cast of "Blood Brothers." Photo: Kauffman Photography

Theatre Review: "Blood Brothers" at the 1000 Islands Playhouse

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The musical "Blood Brothers" is running at the 1000 Islands Playhouse through July 31. Resident theatre critic Connie Meng was at the opening night and has this review.

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Connie Meng
Theatre Critic
A powerful production of "Blood Brothers," written and composed by Willy Russell, has opened at the 1000 Islands Playhouse. Perhaps best known for his hit plays "Educating Rita" and "Shirley Valentine," Mr. Russell actually began his career as a songwriter. The aforementioned plays show his understanding of women and his ability to write strong and complex female characters. He's done it again in "Blood Brothers."

The central character is Mrs. Johnstone, a working-class mother of six who learns she's pregnant with twins and whose husband has deserted her. Her employer, the childless Mrs. Lyons, convinces her to give her one of the twin boys and promise never to reveal the truth. Ironically the boys meet when they're seven years old and become best friends. They eventually fall in love with the same girl--and tragic consequences ensue.

Mr. Russell tells the story not only through dialogue, but also through lyrics and poetry.  For example, Mickey, the working class twin, has a clever poem at the age of seven. In Act II the twins and Linda play a series of short scenes in the intervals of the narrator's poem as they age from 14 to 19.

This is an exceptionally strong cast, including the ensemble.  Not only do they sing well, they also make believable 7-year-olds in Act I and adolescents in the schoolroom scene.  Peter Van Wart is fine as Mr. Lyons and hilarious as a doddering judge. He also does a nice job with his solo.

As Sammy, the twins' tear away older brother, Adrian Proszowski gives a good portrait of a life heading in the wrong direction. Marlene Handrahan is both fierce and fragile as Mrs. Lyons. Laura McCarthy does a nice job as Linda, especially with the body language of age progression.

Graham Parkhurst gives a solid and sensitive performance as Eddie, the upper-class twin. I should mention that the twins are fraternal, not identical.  As Mickey, Daniel Falk is mesmerizing, particularly in the final scene. He's thoroughly believable at all the ages and in the character's growth to maturity. The boys have a couple of nice duets, one at the age of seven and the other as adolescents.

Kyle Dadd is terrific as the narrator. He's obviously an accomplished actor, as his multitude of cameo roles never fall into caricature. He's also got an excellent voice and is very effective with "The Devil's Got Your Number."

Kristen Galer gives a wonderfully layered performance as Mrs. Johnstone. She's a fine actress who shows us the subtleties of the character and draws us into the story with her lovely and powerful voice.

The technical aspects of "Blood Brothers" are also very good. Gillian Gallow's costumes are effective and her set both atmospheric and workable. The lighting by Michelle Ramsay is fine, especially in the penultimate scene. I also liked the practical streetlight.  Judy Cook has done a nice job with the dialects.

Musical Director Sandy Thorburn has done his usual fine job. The vocal music all sounds good, especially the final anthem. The orchestrations for the five-piece band are great--Janet McRae's trumpet in particular J. Once again (hurray!) no body mikes. The sound balance is perfect boosted only a bit by a few unobtrusive hanging mikes. Be sure to read Mr. Thorburn's piece in the program as he has interesting things to say about the material.

Ramona Gilmour-Darling's choreography is very good and clever, especially in "The Kid's Game" and "Getting Out." Director Greg Wanless has staged the final scene so that it's not only shocking, but also believable. He's pulled together all the elements to make "Blood Brothers" an entertaining and moving production. This is an opportunity to see a terrific production of this non-traditional musical. One warning --bring Kleenex.

On a scale of one to five, both the material and the 1000 Islands Playhouse production of "Blood Brothers" get five fish.

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