BWW Reviews: Weathervane draws BLOOD with fall performance
The age old debate of nature versus nurture finds itself at the heart of Willy Russell's BLOOD BROTHERS, which runs Oct. 19-29 at the Weathervane Playhouse (100 Price Street in Newark).
The audience is left with a secondary question at the conclusion of the three-hour performance: Is BLOOD BROTHERS a play with music or a musical with a deeply serious dialogue? In either case, director Kevin Connell's production was so deeply satisfying that it didn't matter.
The theme of BLOOD BROTHERS, which questions the role social class and its advantages can have in a person's future, has been done many times and in many ways. Mark Twain examined it in his classic THE PRINCE AND THE PAUPER and that story was redone countless times from IT TAKES TWO (starring Mary-Kate and Ashley Olson), BARBIE'S THE PRINCESS AND THE POP STAR and of course, GARFIELD: TAILS OF TWO KITTIES.
In BLOOD BROTHERS, Mrs. Johnstone (played by Kait Marie Descutner) is struggling to keep the expenses of her ever-expanding family under control. Her husband leaves her when she discovers she is pregnant for the eighth time but Johnstone figures she can still make ends meet after she lands a job as a cleaning lady for the wealthy Mr. and Mrs. Lyons. Then she is hit with the devastating news that she is going to have twins.
While Johnstone can't stop having children, Mrs. Lyons (Marrett Laney) can't wait to start having them. After several miscarriages, Lyons learns she can't have children and her husband (Ryan Kopycinski) refuses to adopt. Thus an unholy alliance is forged between the cleaning lady and her well-to-do employer: Lyons buys and will pass off one of the Johnstone twins as her own child without her husband's knowledge. Johnstone can still care for the child when she is working at the Lyons' estate.
Things fall apart quickly as Lyons believes Johnstone is spending too much time fawning over the child and fires her. As her son Edward (Colin Robertson) grows older, he is forbidden to play with the children from the wrong side of the tracks. He breaks that rule and soon becomes friends with Mickey Johnstone (Layne Roate), who shares his birthdate.
Despite going to different schools and being forbidden by both mothers to see each other, Mickey and Edward's friendship grows stronger through years. To complicate matters, both fall for the same girl, Linda (Whitney Noelle). Blood, even if it is unknown to both parties, might be thicker than water but lust and love can tear even the strongest friendship apart.
In lesser hands, BLOOD BROTHERS could come across as a melodramatic soap opera. But Connell and music director Dee Saunders and their talented cast make Russell's script seem not only believable but engaging. Kudos also should go to dialect coach Jeff Morrison for perfecting the actors' cockney and posh accents.
Roate has played a wide variety of roles in his 16 show tenure at the Weathervane, playing everything from Mark in RENT to Harold Hill in MUSICAL MAN. But his performance as Mickey might be his most impressive undertaking. He undergoes a metamorphosis from a happy-go-lucky tyke at the beginning of the show to a drug-addled ne'er-do-well by the end. Robertson is able to keep Edward from becoming an upper-class cliché. He keeps a blind eye to the social-economic differences between the two and makes the friendship seem believable.
Descutner and Laney provide the necessary differences in class between the two mothers. Descutner is sharp as ever as she brings to light to songs like "Marilyn Monroe" and "Bright New Day" and heartbreak to "Tell Me It's Not True." Laney, on the other hand, shows strong character development as she goes from a hopeful new mother to a paranoid one.
As the love interest, Noelle is mesmerizing as Linda, bringing a multilayered performance as she goes from flirting to smitten to disenchanted with Mickey before embarking on a passionate affair with Edward. In a wonderful costuming touch, Linda wears a similar dress to Mrs. Johnstone as she makes the transition from girlfriend to mother.
The show wouldn't have worked however without Todd Lemmon, who provides the eerie narration for the show, especially for the ominous "Shoes on the Table."
Rounding out the talented cast are Mitchell Aiello, who played Sammy, and Christopher Marth, Kimberly Camacho and Tyler Godden, who play 31 roles among them. Saunders (keyboards), Harrison Ponce (keyboards) and William Mayer (drums) provide the soundtrack.
The show marks the second time Weathervane has done a fall show. Until recently, the end of summer meant the end of Weathervane's season and a long wait until June when it would start up again. However, the Playhouse's decision to add fall and winter showcases make the wait until summer a little bit easier to bear.
BLOOD BROTHERS enjoys a 10-day run at the Weathervane Playhouse (100 Price Road in Newark) with 7 p.m. shows on Oct. 19-21 and Oct. 26-28 and 2 p.m. matinees on Oct. 21 and Oct. 29. Call 740-366-4616 for ticket information.