2013-05-15 / Features

APAC’s Blood Brothers

A Soaring Success
BY GEORGINA YOUNG-ELLIS


Mickey (Rowan Michael Meyer) and Edward (Simon Pearl) meet as children while Mrs. Johnstone (Colleen Hawks) and Linda (Kayla Wickes) look on. 
Photo Jen Maufrais Kelly Mickey (Rowan Michael Meyer) and Edward (Simon Pearl) meet as children while Mrs. Johnstone (Colleen Hawks) and Linda (Kayla Wickes) look on. Photo Jen Maufrais Kelly My idea of a perfect musical combines a compelling story, stirring music, innovative design, extraordinary singing voices and acting that isn’t sacrificed to the musicality. Such is APAC’s production of Blood Brothers, running this last and final weekend, May 16-18. Even the placement of the audience adds to the intriguing nature of the show, positioned, as they are, in threequarter round behind a front row where the performers are stationed. The band is on a platform above the minimalist set, and in front of them the Narrator (and crooner), played by John Ashley Brown, hovers like a malevolent voyeur, watching the action unfold before him. He opens the show with a Shakespearean prologue warning us not to expect a happy ending. The actors who observe from the sidelines, when they’re not on stage, actively participate as a sort of Greek chorus, in character, yet reacting genuinely to all that is taking place. When something dire happens, or is about to happen, they engage in a ritualistic seated dance, hands pounding thighs, arms thrust into the air in a kind of plea to the gods, while the narrator leaps off the stage and weaves through the action with his microphone, belting out a rock anthem of admonition. All the while, the main characters innocently play out their lives.


John Ashley Brown as the Narrator warns Mrs. Lyons, played by Marisa Devetta, about the consequences of her actions, while the chorus surrounds them. 
Photos Jen Maufrais Kelly John Ashley Brown as the Narrator warns Mrs. Lyons, played by Marisa Devetta, about the consequences of her actions, while the chorus surrounds them. Photos Jen Maufrais Kelly Mrs. Johnstone, a mother of seven children, living in Liverpool, England, finds herself about to give birth to her eighth, just as her husband up and leaves. When she gets a job as a housekeeper for the wealthy Lyons family, she feels secure that she will be able to provide for her family. But then she finds out she’s having twins, and nine children is just too much to handle. The childless Mrs. Lyons convinces her to give one of the twins to her and Mrs. Johnstone reluctantly agrees. Once the babies are born and Mrs. Lyons claims her prize, she decides she doesn’t want Mrs. Johnstone hovering around, fearful her son will one day find out the truth, and fires the woman.


Mickey and Linda (front) celebrate moving out of the city with Mrs. Johnstone (c.), Donna Marie (Britain Gebhardt), and Sammy (Jonathan Gregg), all singing “Bright New Day”. Mickey and Linda (front) celebrate moving out of the city with Mrs. Johnstone (c.), Donna Marie (Britain Gebhardt), and Sammy (Jonathan Gregg), all singing “Bright New Day”. So the two boys grow up, Mickey Johnstone, a scrappy street kid, and Edward Lyons, a privileged, sheltered schoolboy. And though they live in different neighborhoods, their paths cross; they are irresistibly drawn to one another – blood brothers in spirit, yet not knowing they are related by actual blood. Even when Mrs. Lyons finds out about the boys’ friendship and moves her family away, Edward and Mickey find each other again as teens, experience adolescence together, and fall for the same girl, Linda. It isn’t until Edward returns from college that reality begins to bear down on them. Mickey’s life takes an unfortunate turn, and the boys’ love for each other is tested to the limit, ultimately not able to overcome the tragedy fate has forced upon them.

The performances are extraordinary, each and every one. Colleen Hawks as Mrs. Johnstone has a pouty, ageless beauty, a flawless Liverpudlian accent, and a gorgeous, trembling singing voice that endears her to us from the very first. We ache at her mother’s pain, while we laugh at her silliness – a first rate comic actress. Rowan Michael Meyer’s Mickey has a delicious rubbery physicality that makes him the perfect squirmy child, awkward adolescent, and hapless criminal. Simon Pearl as Edward is sweetness itself, even as he transforms into a randy, rowdy teenager, and Kayla Wickes as Linda has a devilish appeal we cannot help but love. Other standouts are Marisa Devetta as the neurotic and tortured Mrs. Lyons, Jonathan Gregg, an APAC favorite, playing Mickey’s brother Sammy as a charismatic delinquent, Jason Pintar, hilarious in his roles as Gynocologist/Policeman/Teacher (and who, along with cast mate Joey Donnelly, regales us with some stunning trumpet solos), Jan-Peter Pedross, who steals the scenes whenever he appears as Milkman/Perkins/Policeman, and the irrepressible Britain Gebhardt as Donna Marie.

The driving force behind it all is the sublime music by Willy Russell, instrumentation provided by a band so excellent it is a character in itself. The show starts with the hopeful tune, “Marilyn Monroe”, which devolves later into hopelessness in its two reprises, referencing Marilyn’s own sad history as time progresses. In act two there is the lovely, “Summer Sequence”, in which the teenage years pass dreamily for Mickey, Edward and Linda during the course of the song, and just after that, Edward’s serenade with guitar to Linda, “I’m Not Saying a Word”, which melts us to tears.

The genius at the helm of this production is director Tom Wojtunik, whose inventive staging makes every component come together. Christine O’Grady’s musical staging is flawless: from swing dancing, to disco, to the raw, foreboding movements of the chorus. And the evocative lighting by Dan Jobbins, the sparse but versatile set by Stephan K. Dobay, the charming costumes by Caitlin Cisek, as well as the clever sound and prop design by David M. Corsello and Aaron Scheckler, respectively, make this show soar. All in all, Blood Brothers is a timeless story, an innovative production, and an exultant theatrical experience. This one is not to be missed.

For tickets, visit www.APACNY.org.

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