Brothers still have powerful message

 

Blood Brothers

Birmingham Hippodrome

****

ONE can imagine that 28 years ago when Willey Russell's first production of  Blood brothers was staged in schools around Merseyside, that it was a pretty intense and raw experience, capturing the tragedy of two brothers against the backdrop of class separation and social depression.

It is perhaps the reason that a multitude of schools have since staged it, as it contains enough themes of family, teen pregnancy, violence and the workplace to build an entire curriculum on.

The play finally reached the West End 24 years ago and when the show finally closes in November this year, its impressive run must be hailed as something of a musical legend. However to achieve that and to generate its mass appeal it has passed through the West End machine and after subsequent years of tweaking , it seems at times to have now parodied this powerful original narrative.

There have been a host of stars over that time, both here and in performances across the world ,in key roles and now former Wet Wet Wet frontman Marti Pellow returns to head up the show poster.

Whilst a shrewd piece of casting it seemed a disappointment to some of his fan base who braved the ` Wet Wet ‘night to see him. His role of The Narrator is a continually fleeting part that never really features him and Pellow has had to abandon his once distinctive pop vocal style for a more classical approach which doesn't altogether suit him.

This change of style, together with his exaggerated and melodramatic take on the vicious narrator, bordered on unintentional comedy at some points. 

If this approach to the marketing led casting was formulaic, then so too is the Bill Kenwright and Bob Tomson‘s approach to direction. It seems almost every time that the same collection of staging flats or furniture props appear in most of their productions and again there were no real staging surprises here. Visually  it's all pretty predictable and you  just wish there was a little more design, thought and effort but it is obviously  a case of `  if it's not broke then don't fix it.'

Niki Evans as Mrs Johnstone has become a true star of musical theatre

The real staging surprise was Brummie girl Niki Evans in the pivotal role of Mrs Johnstone. Evans, an X Factor survivor, passed through the TV series in 2007 winning public acclaim and then joining the West End cast in 2009, before leaving to tour her X Factor catalogue.

Even though directed to sing some of the early songs with a Liverpudlian accent she managed to ring every emotional twist out of what remains is a pretty uninspiring collection of songs.  The accent had thankfully gone by the end and seemed to release an even greater intensity in her voice and she must surely be destined to be a major player in the future of musical theatre.

Sean Jones and Jordan Bird handled the roles of the Star crossed brothers Mickey and Eddie with energy and passion even though seeing grown men in shorts and school uniforms is still a little hard to accept in the early scenes.

What always seems to be just adequate with Kenwright touring productions is the sound. Although the vocals were well produced, the `in the pit ‘band was muted with cheesy 80's synth string sounds cheapening the onstage drama. Relying too on the `in house PA' one wonders why a more dedicated and produced sound system is not used, after all it is a musical. 

Blood Brothers remains one of the most successful UK musicals of all time and that's quite an achievement when musically most people don't know any of the songs in quite the same way as say a Lloyd Webber score.

Its enduring quality is the classical tragedy of two innocent children separated by class, money and education. Thankfully, even after years in the bright lights, a long list of star performers and the polish of the West End, that simple message still remains and this will be the last chance for you to see it staged at this impressive level.    To 03-11-12

Jeff Grant

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