“Blood Brothers,” smashingly superstitious

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Willy Russell’s “Blood Brothers” has now run for 23 years in London’s West End, nearly developing a cult following. Across the pond, Yalies can discover what the rage is all about at the Off Broadway Theater, this Thursday through Saturday night.

“Blood Brothers,” performed as a play in the round, has a simple set: a wooden chair, a table, an old pram, a broom. The cast successfully fills in the rest of the imaginative space, with the set’s simplicity focusing the performance on the musical’s deeper evocations.

Directed by Amanda Chang ’13, the musical confronts the classic question of nature versus nurture. Two twins are separated at birth because their mother, Mrs. Johnstone (Catherine Chiocchi ’15), is financially unable to support the two babies along with her brood of other kids. Mrs. Johnstone keeps one son and gives the other to her employer, the wealthy Mrs. Lyons (Stephanie Brandon ’13) who is desperate for a child of her own. To keep Mrs. Johnstone from attempting to take back the other twin, Mrs. Lyons warns Mrs. Johnstone of the superstition that if twins separated at birth ever learn the truth, they will both immediately die. Of course, Mickey, (Tommy Bazarian ’15) the lower-class twin, and Eddie (Edward Delman ’12), the upper-class twin, do meet and befriend one another as children. Their friendship blossoms through adolescence as they fall in love with the same girl, Linda (Zina Ellis ’15). The belief in the superstition about twins, and many others that follow, bring up the second question of the play: how much are these superstitions self-fulfilling prophecies? And could they have been prevented?

The play begins where it ends, with Mrs. Johnstone crying alone at center stage. The narrator (Mark Trapani ’14) enters, wearing all black. He informs the audience that both twins have died. Trapani plays the narrator as suave, with sliding eyes that reinforce the unsettling rhymes he repeats. The narrator serves as the constant reminder of the dark shadow looming over the play, even at the moments when the audience can barely resist getting up to dance with the cast. This is especially true during the final scene of Act One, as brightly clad kids skip in a circle and sing, “It’s a bright new day. We’re moving away.”

As we get to know Mickey and Eddie as they grow up, they become more and more likeable as their friendship deepens — showcasing the talents of the two actors who play them. The audience comes to dread their inevitable doom. Bazarin plays Mickey with endearingly awkward movements. Delman plays Eddie as wide-eyed and easily excitable. In the most telling portrait of their childhood relationship, Mickey sits cross-legged on the floor as Eddie rolls on his back, laughing at the swear word Mick has just taught him. As a freshman, Bazarin easily complemented Delman’s performance.

But perhaps the result of a generally younger cast, some of the other actors seemed a bit nervous at the beginning of the show. On the other hand, one of the show’s more experienced actors — Brandon as Mrs. Lyons — was particularly successful in evoking audience sympathy, especially in a character who potentially could have been seen as a villain. Set in Liverpool, England, the entire cast attempted to adopt a British accent. Although the accents were not distracting overall, some characters pulled off the difficult task better than others. Ultimately, as the show progressed, the actors built off of one another’s energy, strengthening the genuine relationships and interactions that made this particular performance so moving.

“Blood Brothers” is at once entertaining, tragic and poignant. You may leave disheartened or you may leave laughing, but you will certainly leave with “Bright New Day” stuck in your head.

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