Lost Twins Reunite in “BLOOD BROTHERS”

“BLOOD BROTHERS” ATLANTIC BEACH EXPERIMENTAL THEATRE REVIEW

ABET opened Willy Russell’s provocative award-winning musical “Blood Brothers” on March 13, 2015. It will be on-stage through March 29 at 716 Ocean Street in Atlantic Beach, Florida. For reservations, call 904-249-7117 or visit abettheatre.com

Other than a short weekend run at FCCJ almost twenty years ago, this is a brand new musical to the North Florida area, despite the fact that after a debut in Liverpool in 1983, it transferred to London’s West End and won the Olivier Award, Britain’s version of the Tony Award, for best musical. After tours in 1984 and 1987, it was revived in London’s West Side in 1988 and played continuously for twenty-four years. “Blood Brothers”ran on Broadway for two years beginning in 1993, and was voted the Most Popular British Musical of All Time by readers of the New York Times. ABET’s production lives up to all its advance billing and is one you won’t want to miss.

“Blood Brothers” is the story of twin brothers, separated at birth. One remains with his mother, a working class woman whose husband has left her. She has more children than she can afford to care for and is struggling as a single parent. The other brother is given away, to the mother’s employer, who is wealthy and uses her position to take advantage of the birth mother’s desperate circumstances.

The twins meet by chance, despite living on different sides of the tracks. When they learn they were born on the same day, they declare themselves “blood brothers” and become the best of friends. Their harmless youthful relationship leads to problems when they become adults, with tragic results.

11071741_10153218779994974_7450155689898668856_nJU graduate Alec Hadden has apparently found a theatre home at ABET, as this is his third show this season. Mr. Hadden is the Narrator, the musical’s most demanding role. His performance is filled with awesome vocal and physical versatility in a fascinatingly shifting role, requiring many different accents.

Jennifer C. Paulk as Mrs. Johnstone is absolutely wonderful and believable as the caring mother of several children. You may recall her performances in the “Trailer Park Musical” at Players and in the cast of “Hair” at Amelia Community Theatre. This role is quite different and really displays her marvelous vocal range.

Kimberlin Osofsky and Evan Gould play Mr. and Mrs. Lyons, who, after becoming adoptive parents, cold-heartedly terminate the mother’s employment and access to the child. Ms.Osofsky has not been on stage regularly in several years, except for a part in one of ABET’s Christmas shows, but she is excellent as the devious matron. Mr. Gould is one of the busiest actors in this area and has appeared in one show after another in various characters roles.

11057483_10153218779849974_6025560657175534932_nPlaying Mickey, the poor twin, is Ryan Ikaika Arroyo in his debut at ABET. Mr. Arroyo has been very active at Players by the Sea in “Post to Post Links II error: No link found for term slug "Jesus Chris, Superstar",” “Rent,” and “Post to Post Links II error: No link found for term slug "Bloody, Bloody Andrew Jackson".” He makes a remarkable transition on-stage, from a child of seven, to a teenager of fourteen, and then to an adult with a pregnant wife.

Hector Louis Gonzalez Toro is Eddie, the twin who was given away. As Eddie, he portrays life changes that mirror those of his brother. Hector sings the most beautiful song in the show: “I’m Not Saying a Word.”

Mr. Arroyo and Mr. Toro fit their dynamic performances together like two sides of a freshly minted coin. These young actors win you over with simplicity, creativity, and emotion.

Patti Menefee is brilliant as Linda, the girl who introduces conflict as the romantic interest of both twins. Ms. Menefee has been in several shows at Players by the Sea, including “Angels in America,” “The Fox on the Fairway,” and “Young Frankenstein.”

Matt Tompkins, who can usually be seen doing a classic comic role on stage, does an about-face in a chilling performance as Sammy, an older Johnstone brother who goes bad as a child and becomes worse as an adult.

Director Dave Alan Thomas has cast a remarkable ensemble whose members play a variety of roles and are always somewhere on stage. They include Amy Tillotson, Theresa Buchanan, Brian Johnson, and Iaan Quintanilla.

The cast and director received flawless support from the band. Musical Director Zeek Smith was also the conductor and on keyboard. The band included Rose Marie Francis (violin), Michael Saddekni (saxophone), Jacob Schuman (guitar), and Michael Taylor (drums).

The staging was solid and sure down to the last detail. Director Thomas has worked some minimalist magic, with the only furniture being straight-back wooden chairs that are constantly on the move. The actors used pantomime instead of props. The lighting design by Bryan Frank completed the picture. The production team included Laurel Wilson (Stage Manager), Kristen Walsh (Assistant Stage Manager), Dave Alan Thomas (Set Design), Amy Tillotson (Costume Design), and Missy Losure (Choreography).

The audience responded wholeheartedly to this unique musical that is a blend of comedy, anger, pain, and social critique. If stunning musical performances are your thing, don’t miss the opportunity to see “Blood Brothers.”

 

About Dick Kerekes & Leisla Sansom

The Dual Critics of EU Jacksonville have been reviewing plays together for the past nine years. Dick Kerekes has been a critic since 1980, starting with The First Coast Entertainer and continuing as the paper morphed into EU Jacksonville. Leisla Sansom wrote reviews from time to time in the early 80s, but was otherwise occupied in the business world. As a writing team, they have attended almost thirty Humana Festivals of New America Plays at Actors Theatre in Louisville, Kentucky, and many of the annual conferences sponsored by the American Theatre Critics Association, which are held in cities throughout the country. They have reviewed plays in Cincinnati, Chicago, Miami, Sarasota, Minneapolis, Orlando, New York, Philadelphia, Sarasota, San Francisco, Shepherdstown, and The Eugene O’Neill Center in Waterford, Massachusetts. They currently review about one hundred plays annually in the North Florida area theaters, which include community, college, university, and professional productions.