JWR Articles: Live Event - Blood Brothers (Director: Fortunato Pezzimenti) - September 26, 2009

Blood Brothers

3.5 3.5

Falsely reinforcing the truth

With the ghost of Marilyn Monroe largely present in the lyrics and the attendant major/minor (happiness/despair) modes frequenting the music, Willy Russell’s desperate tale of twin separation has successfully tugged at the heart strings of audiences since its 1988 première.

How wonderful to explore his dark, social commentary in the close-quarter setting of the Andrews Theatre—especially with such a fine cast working its way through the eighteen musical numbers. Music director Allan Paglia has successfully reworked the misty/exuberant hue from the score’s original nine performers to an intimate trio (keyboard, guitar and drums—replete with baby cymbals whose colours make their effect without overwhelming the stage).

Sadly, and as has been discussed frequently in these pages most recently at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival (cross-reference below), director Fortunato Pezzimentil and his production staff seem to have fallen into the aural trap that “If this is a musical, then sound reinforcement (a.k.a body microphones) must be used.” Perhaps they are warranted in much larger venues, but what’s the advantage in a room where the audience is so personally connected to the stage?

The danger of the cast believing that crystal-clear diction and projection can be managed by the sound board, left those of us sitting in the “north” missing several lines. The ability to have an off-stage chorus support Mrs. Johnstone (Loraine O’Donnell, whose gritty, full-blooded portrayal was one of several pluses), worked well on paper, if only the ensemble’s “togetherness” had matched their seldom-distorted tone quality. (Surely the artistic trust could develop a solution that would include everyone sharing the same space and at least one or two of the stronger voices within eyesight/earshot of the band.)

With so much going for it, this and future productions might want to rethink the whole notion of removing as much electronic interference between the singers and their devoted listeners as possible. Finally, seeing the characters move about the stage during dialogue while their voices remain stationary further detracts from the power of the show. In many ways, this type of unwanted electronic “support” is as unwelcome as the dreaded cellphones and pagers that only seem to go off during the most tender moments.

Those reservations aside, this is a production that deserves to be seen.

Brian Riggs proves to be a deft and sensitive Narrator as he moves us steadily through the back-story with its many twists, turns and superstitions-on-parade. “Shows Upon the Table” was an early winner.

David Autovino’s Mickey (twin No. 1) was a spectacular display of vocal chops, dramatic timing and emotional range that won’t be forgotten anytime soon. Sibling Steve Copps—certainly not identical—was at his best in his younger and adolescent years—his discovery of “tits” was a hoot! As their older brother Sammy, Nathan Michael Winkelstein makes a fine figure of a hoodlum with a cause.

The more-money-than-compassion Lyons family were well-served by Jenn Stafford (believably conniving barren mom) and Doug Crane (a tad dry in the vocal department, but otherwise a model of stoic opportunism).

Cassie Gorniewicz made a compelling Linda—torn between the love of both brothers until, like their entire extended family, the power of a long-held-back truth was unleashed with devastatingly, deadly effect. JWR

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