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Review: Florida Theatrical Association's BLOOD BROTHERS at The Abbey

An emotional production of this rare West End hit musical on stage at The Abbey

Review: Florida Theatrical Association's BLOOD BROTHERS at The Abbey "So, did you hear the story of the Johnstone twins? As like each other as two new pins. Of one womb born, on the self-same day, how one was kept and one given away?" These are the words spoken by the Narrator at the beginning of BLOOD BROTHERS, the long-running West End musical by Willy Russell which provides the perfect setup for the play that follows. BLOOD BROTHERS is not a show that gets produced that often, but that is likely exactly why the Florida Theatrical Association has opted to mount a production of the musical - to introduce it to new audiences and provide theatregoers the unique experience of seeing the show. I attended opening night and it was, in fact, the first time I have had the chance to see a live production even though I have been familiar with the piece due to its popularity in England and its not-as-successful run on Broadway in the early 1990's. And though the piece itself has some challenges (more on that later) the FTA's production is solid with outstanding and emotional performances by the cast and a creative vision true to the material.

Review: Florida Theatrical Association's BLOOD BROTHERS at The Abbey BLOOD BROTHERS, as noted in the opening lines, is the story of the Johnstone twins, Mickey (Adam DelMedico) and Eddie (Pat Clark), born to Mrs. Johnstone (Sarah-Lee Dobbs) who, unable to care for both babies, reluctantly gives one to her wealthy employer, Mrs. Lyons (Morgan Howland-Cook) to raise. And though both mothers do their best to keep the boys from each other, by chance, they form a strong friendship and become "blood brothers" not knowing their true relationship. Mickey grows up poor while Edward/Eddie has all the benefits of the upper class available to him, putting them on different paths in life which tragically collide in the final moments of the musical. This classic "nature vs. nurture" tale tackles some heavy subjects - most prominently the disparity between the classes (in England during the 60's - 80's though could be modern times as well) and depression and mental illness - through dialogue and song.

Review: Florida Theatrical Association's BLOOD BROTHERS at The Abbey As musicals go, BLOOD BROTHERS is a piece that seems to have difficulty finding its voice. It is a musical, yes, but one where the songs are not that memorable and don't necessarily advance the plot - they just add color/punctuation to the emotions displayed on stage. It also suffers a bit from too much exposition in the first act and a second act forced to rush through to its finale. Willy Russell also relies a lot on repetition, revisiting the same melody and lyric structure throughout the piece. The script is melodramatic and harkens back to classic British soaps like Coronation Street and East Enders - which may explain why the musical ran for 24 years, the third longest running production in West End history. But overall, it is a compelling story, one which captures your attention and makes you want to see how the story ends.

Review: Florida Theatrical Association's BLOOD BROTHERS at The Abbey In Florida Theatrical Association's production, the cast is led by the fantastic Sara-Lee Dobbs, who brings the perfect mix of cheekiness and desperation to the role of Mrs. Johnstone. Her emotional range is impressive, building to a climax where she lays bare the raw emotion of the twins' mother. Ms. Dobbs in her bio notes that Mrs. J is a dream role for her, and you can tell by the care and energy she gives to the role. As the separated twins, Mickey and Eddie, Adam DelMedico and Pat Clark look eerily related, creating an authenticity to their roles. Both actors tackle (with success) the difficult task of playing the characters at age 8, 14, 16-19 and as an adult. Mr. Delmedico's 8-year-old Mickey is boisterous, brash and he displays great range as he takes Mickey down his bumpy path to adulthood. Mr. Clark's young Eddie is goofy, awkward, and great fun to watch growing into a conflicted young man who, in his later years, wants to help his "brother" but not understanding how best to reach him. As Mrs. Lyons, Eddie's adopted mother and foil to Ms. Dobbs' Mrs. Johnstone, Morgan Howland-Cook gives a complex and nuanced performance - desperate to have a child and then willing to do whatever it takes to protect her son. Her descent into paranoia and madness is a thrill to watch. As her belabored husband, Mr. Lyons, David Lowe gives the audience a patriarch who is detached, standoffish and seemingly befuddled by his wife's behavior - not knowing the secret she hides from him about Eddie's parentage. Finally, as the Narrator, who regularly appears in a pool of red light to share something ominous and poetic about the fates of those on stage (Mrs. Johnstone in particular), Shea Rafferty is menacing and magnetic - pulling the audience in each time he appears.

Review: Florida Theatrical Association's BLOOD BROTHERS at The Abbey Kenny Howard's direction of FTA's BLOOD BROTHERS is solid, keeping the story moving and the audience engaged as much as possible with Willy Russell's material. His staging works well on the small stage at The Abbey, and he effectively uses the audience space for the dramatic conclusion of the show - making those final scenes that much more poignant and personal. Bonnie Sprung's simple but effective scenic designs create the right amount of context for the scenes and is supported by Joshua Seyna's projections that center the stage. Mr. Seyna also serves as sound designer, which had a few balance and mic issues on opening night, but which allowed the audiences to connect to the story appropriately. Donald Spencer's costumes work well, and Troy Bolin's lighting design is most effective when illustrating the shift in tone whenever the Narrator appears. Finally, Musical Director Jason Whitehead leads a strong live orchestra in providing the musical scoring throughout the night.

Is BLOOD BROTHERS a musical you are going to go home tapping your feet and humming your favorite number? Maybe, maybe not. But it is a piece that firmly holds a place in musical theatre history, and one that, due to its rarity on stage today, should be seen. And with this piece, the Florida Theatrical Association gives an emotional, engaging and quality production worth checking out.

Review: Florida Theatrical Association's BLOOD BROTHERS at The Abbey

BLOOD BROTHERS by Florida Theatrical Association runs at The Abbey in downtown Orlando through June 19. Tickets can be purchased by visiting abbeyorlando.com.

All Photos provided by Florida Theatrical Association.



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