While largely unknown in America, Willy Russell’s cult classic musical “Blood Brothers” is one of the most successful musical productions in the history of London’s West End. Now, the play comes to the Hinman Production Company stage.
“Blood Brothers” is a familiar story of desperate times calling for desperate measures. The play begins in 1960s England, with a pregnant Mrs. Johnstone, played by Emma Manfredi, a freshman majoring in English, struggling to care for her seven hungry children after her husband leaves her. She begins working as a maid for a wealthy couple in a nicer part of town to make some money, but then learns that she’s about to have twins. Overwhelmed by the looming financial burden of another two children, Johnstone is convinced by her employer, Mrs. Lyons, to give up one of the twins to her.
However, Lyons asks that it be done in secret and that neither twin should know they are brothers. If the siblings find out, according to superstition, they would both die. Johnstone later regrets giving up her child, but is bound by an oath she made on the Bible.
Despite very different upbringings, the boys eventually find each other and become best friends. According to Jess Wallace, who co-directed “Blood Brothers” with Andrew Watters, the difference between social classes and nature versus nurture are the main themes of the play. The story follows this friendship through various stages of their lives, and demonstrates the strain that money and class can have on a relationship.
“Blood Brothers” is the first HPC production in five years to feature a pit orchestra. For most of the semester, the cast and band rehearsed separately, but the two coordinated the music with the performance for the last week of rehearsal. Having the live orchestra adds a more complex level of emotion to the performance and ties the play to the time period. The live music helps some of the more subtle scenes and narrations. But while the songs are enjoyable and catchy, the voices are unaided by microphones and sometimes get overpowered by the instruments.
HPC’s set draws heavily from the 1960s aesthetic recently popularized by AMC’s “Mad Men,” and the play itself references both British and American culture from the time period.
“My character idolizes the idea of Marilyn Monroe and her significance in that time period,” Manfredi said.
One of the more notable aspects of the musical is how natural the English accents sounded coming from a young group of Americans. Jordan Gagnon, a junior majoring in mechanical engineering, played the role of Mickey Johnstone (the poor twin) across several stages of life, and realistically demonstrated a change of tone and language as time progressed. While he is well over six feet tall, Gagnon made a very convincing performance as the seven-year-old Mickey, capturing the spirit of childhood and the vigor of youth.
“Its a unique experience [playing one character at different ages]. This is my favorite show, and Mickey has always been my dream role,” Gagnon said. “It’s cool for an audience member to connect with the characters when they’re young and then see them when they’re older.”
“Blood Brothers” premiered at 8 p.m. on May 1 in Hinman’s Rockefeller Center. There will be additional performances at 8 p.m. on May 2 and 3 at noon on May 3. Tickets will be sold at the door for $5.