Willy Russell's classic musical Blood Brothers is set in Liverpool and is about twins separated at birth but whose paths cross in later life. Contains the haunting song 'Tell Me It's Not True'.
So did y' 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? An' did you never hear how the Johnstones died, never knowing that they shared one name, Till the day they died, when a mother cried, 'my own dear sons lie slain'. An' did y' never hear of the mother so cruel, there's a stone in place of her heart? Then bring her on and come judge for yourselves, how she came to play this part.
PLEASE NOTE: The recommended age for children for this show is 12 years and above.
Willy Russell's original non-musical play Blood Brothers premiered on Saturday 13 February 1982 at the Southport Arts Centre, presented by Merseyside Young People's Theatre for a six-month school/education tour in a double-bill with David Holman's Destination America. Russell knew he wanted to make the play into a musical, and so started writing it immediately in order to avoid being distracted. This musical version then premiered at the Liverpool Playhouse Theatre on Saturday 8 January 1983 (following two previews on Thursday 6 and Friday 7 January), playing for a hugely successful extended season prior to transferring to London's West End in April 1983.
Original West End London Production at the Lyric Theatre
Previewed 7 April 1983, Opened 11 April 1983, Closed 22 October 1983 at the Lyric Theatre
The cast featured Barbara Dickson as 'Mrs Johnstone', Andrew Schofield as 'Narrator', George Costigan as 'Mickey', Andrew C Wadsworth as 'Eddie', Peter Christian as 'Sammy', Kate Fitzgerald as 'Linda', Wendy Murray as 'Mrs Lyons', Alan Leith as 'Mr Lyons', Hazel Ellerby, David Edge, Ian Burns, and Oliver Beamish.
Directed by Chris Bond and Danny Hiller, with designs by Andy Greenfield, and lighting by Jimmy Simmons.
Prior to London's West End this production was presented at the Liverpool Playhouse - previewed from 6 January 1983, opened on 8 January 1983, and closed on 19 March 1983 - with the same cast, with the exception of Oliver Beamish who was added as an extra cast member for the West End. The production was directed by Chris Bond, with choreography by Lesley Hutchison, and designs by Andy Greenfield.
A few months after opening, at the start of Summer, with poor attendance, the theatre owners booked another show into the theatre from week commencing Monday 24 October 1983. This meant that, although ticket sales had significately picked up by September 1983 - with a number of 'sold-out performances' - as there wasn't another theatre that the prouction could transfer to, the show sadly closed. The show that was booked in was Hugh Whitemore's play Pack of Lies starring real-life husband and wife, Michael Williams and Judi Dench, which run at the Lyric Theatre for 47 weeks, just under one year.
1st West End London Revival at the Albery and Phoenix Theatres
Previewed 20 July 1988, Opened 28 July 1988, Closed 16 November 1991 at the Albery Theatre (now Noel Coward Theatre)
Transferred 21 November 1991, Closed 10 November 2012 at the Phoenix Theatre
The Original Cast at the West End's Albery Theatre featured Kiki Dee as 'Mrs Johnstone', Warwick Evans as 'Narator', Con O'Neill as 'Mickey', Robert Locke as 'Eddie', Terry Melia as 'Sammy', Annette Ekblom as 'Linda', Joanne Zorian as 'Mrs Lyons', Jeffrey Gear as 'Mr Lyons', Michael Atkinson as 'Policeman'/'Teacher', Dee Robillard as 'Donna Marie'/'Miss Jones', Fenton Gray as 'Perkins', David Allman, Fiona Campbell, and Peter Watts.
The 10th Anniversary Cast at the West End's Phoenix Theatre on Tuesday 28 July 1998 featured Lyn Paul as 'Mrs Johnstone', Keith Burns as 'Narrator', Andy Snowden as 'Mickey', Mark Hutchinson as 'Eddie', Tony McIlroy as 'Sammy', Emily-Machelle Watkins as 'Linda', Debbie Paul as 'Mrs Lyons', David Hitchen as 'Mr Lyons', Gary Brookfield as 'Policeman'/'Teacher', Louise Faulkner as 'Donna Marie'/'Miss Jones', David Bingham as 'Perkins', Neil Gordon as 'Neighbour', Louise Russell as 'Brenda', and Michael Bernardin as 'Bus Conductor'/'Postman'.
The 21st Anniversary Cast at the West End's Phoenix Theatre on Tuesday 28 July 2009 featured Niki Evans as 'Mrs Johnstone', Philip Stewart as 'Narrator', Ben Sewell as 'Mickey', Michael Sewell as 'Eddie', Michael Southern as 'Sammy', Louise Clayton as 'Linda', Vivienne Carlyle as 'Mrs Lyons', Owen Oldroyd as 'Mr Lyons', Rob Hughes as 'Policeman'/'Teacher', Tricia Adele-Turner as 'Donna Marie'/'Miss Jones', Jody Tranter as 'Perkins', Karl Greenwood as 'Neighbour', Kate Sharp as 'Brenda', and Alex Harland as 'Bus Conductor'/'Postman'.
The Final Cast at the West End's Phoenix Theatre from 29 October 2012 to 10 November 2012 featured Lyn Paul as 'Mrs Johnstone', Warwick Evans as 'Narrator', Sean Jones as 'Mickey', Mark Hutchinson as 'Eddie', Michael Southern as 'Sammy', Jan Graveson as 'Linda', Vivienne Carlyle as 'Mrs Lyons', Kevin Pallister as 'Mr Lyons', Matt Slack as 'Policeman'/'Teacher', Joanne Dalladay as 'Donna Marie'/'Miss Jones', Simon Turner as 'Perkins', Craig Anthony-Kelly as 'Neighbour', Ashley Morgan as 'Brenda', and Alex Harland as 'Bus Conductor'/'Postman'.
Directed by Bob Tomson with Bill Kenwright, designs by Marty Flood, and lighting by Jon Swain.
The role of 'Mrs Johnstone' was played by (excluding holidays etc) Kiki Dee from July 1988 to May 1989; Angela Richards from May 1989 to January 1990; Kiki Dee from January 1990 to October 1990; Stephanie Lawrence from October 1990 to December 1992; Kiki Dee from December 1992 to April 1993; Barbara Dickson from April 1993 to August 1993; Stephanie Lawrence from September 1993 to May 1996; Siobhan McCarthy from May 1996 to June 1997 (note: Lyn Paul as holiday cover for three weeks during April 1997); Clodagh Rodgers from June 1997 to July 1997; Helen Reddy from July 1997 to October 1997; Lyn Paul from October 1997 to December 1999; Stephanie Lawrence from December 1999 to February 2000; Denise Nolan from February 2000 to October 2000; Lyn Paul from October 2000 to May 2001; Linda Nolan from May 2001 to August 2003; Lyn Paul from September 2003 to January 2005; Maureen Nolan from January 2005 to March 2007; Helen Hobson from April 2007 to September 2007; Siobhan McCarthy from September 2007 to January 2008; Lyn Paul from January 2008 to October 2008; Niki Evans from 3 November 2008 to October 2009; Melanie C (AKA Melanie Chisholm) from October 2009 to April 2010; Niki Evans from April 2010 to August 2010; Lyn Paul from August 2010 to November 2010; Maureen Nolan from November 2010 to January 2011; Natasha Hamilton from January 2011 to July 2011; Amy Robbins from August 2011 to February 2012; Vivienne Carlyle from February 2012 to October 2012; and Lyn Paul for the final two weeks in October/November 2012.
The three most notable actresses to play 'Mrs Johnston' in London's West End are Kiki Dee who was the original 'Mrs Johnston' from Thursday 21 July 1988, and played the role for three seasons, giving her last performance on Saturday 3 April 1993; Stephanie Lawrence who gave her first performance on Monday 22 October 1990, and returned for a number of seasons before giving her last performance on Saturday 5 February 2000. She also originated the role of 'Mrs Johnston' in the New York Broadway transfer at the Music Box Theatre in April 1993. Sadly, on Saturday 4 November 2000, Stephanie Lawrence died suddenly at home from natural causes after suffering from liver disease. Later that same evening the lights outside the Phoenix Theatre where dimmed prior to the evening performance in her memory; and Lyn Paul originally played 'Mrs Johnston' for three weeks, as holiday cover, in April 1997, prior to joining the UK touring production of the musical. She returned a number of times to the role in London's West End, including providing 'holiday cover'. The producer and director Bill Kenwright invited Lyn Paul back to play 'Mrs Johnston' for the show's last two weeks in London's West End from Monday 29 October to Saturday 10 November 2012.
Other notable cast members in this London West End production include the original 1983 'Mrs Johnston' Barbara Dickson returned from Monday 5 April 1993 to Saturday 21 August 1993; David Cassidy played 'Mickey' for four weeks from Monday 11 December 1995 to Saturday 6 January 1996; David Soul played the 'Narrator' for three weeks from Tuesday 28 January to Saturday 15 February 1997; former Spice Girl Melanie Chisholm (AKA Mel C) played 'Mrs Johnstone' from Monday 26 October 2009 to Saturday 24 April 2010; former Atomic Kitten Natasha Hamilton played 'Mrs Johnstone' from Monday 24 January 2011 to Saturday 30 July 2011; and the Wet Wet Wet singer Marti Pellow played the 'Narrator' from Tuesday 1 November 2011 to Saturday 28 April 2012.
Prior to London's West End, this production was presented at the Queen's Theatre, Hornchurch, Essex from 19 March 1987 to 11 April 1987 with a cast that included Kiki Dee as 'Mrs Johnston', Warwick Evans as 'Narrator', Con O'Neill as 'Mickey', Robert Locke as 'Eddie', Phil Hearne as 'Sammy', Pamela Power as 'Linda', Joanne Zorian as 'Mrs Lyon', David Bluestone as 'Mr Lyon', Michael Atkinson as 'Policeman'/'Teacher', Dee Robillard as 'Donna Marie'/'Miss Jones', and Richard Croxford as 'Perkins'. It was directed by Bob Tomson, with designs by Kate Robertson, and lighting by Stanley Osborne-White. This was followed by a major regional tour (with breaks) up to 9 July 1988. During the tour the production was redesigned by Marty Flood, and relight by Jon Swain. The tour included three seasons at the Liverpool Empire Theatre: from Monday 29 June to Saturday 11 July 1987; from Monday 14 to Saturday 26 March 1988; and from Monday 4 to Saturday 9 July 1988, following which the production transferred straight to the West End's Albery Theatre in London.
"21 years young and still match fit thanks to the arrival of former Spice Girl Melanie Chisholm (Mel C). She scores brilliantly in the central role of the Scouse single mother Mrs Johnstone. Struggling with five children, she finds she's expecting twins, so she gives one to the middle-class, childless woman whose house she cleans. The stage is haunted by the fateful black-suited figure of the Narrator, a sort of Greek Chorus, delivering doom-laden news bulletins. That may sound fancy. It's not. Willy Russell's gutsy folk-opera couldn't be more down-to-earth, weaving the mythic and epic with social realism... The boys know nothing of their true relationship but are drawn to one another, and the truth eventually comes out in the devastating denouement. There's been no shortage of star singers - Kiki Dee, Linda Nolan, Barbara Dickson, Petula Clark, Lyn Paul, Helen Reddy - queuing to play the part of Mrs Johnstone. Mel C is the first real Liverbird. Beleaguered but bearing up, she fills Russell's forlorn melodies and hopeful ballads with heart and soul... If you haven't seen it, treat yourself. If, like me, you're word perfect, go again." The Mail on Sunday
"A lot of tears have flowed down the Mersey since Willy Russell's dramatic musical about the Johnstone twins opened in the West End... Over the years the show about love, loss and life on the never-never has provided work for singers including Kiki Dee, Barbara Dickson and Stephanie Lawrence. There is comedy as well as tragedy as the kids grow up on separate sides of the track. Songs such as Easy Terms and Tell Me It's Not True still pack a powerful punch. If you haven't caught up with it yet, give yourself a treat. Mrs Johnstone will tear your heart out as she recalls her younger days when she was told she had legs like Marilyn Monroe. And the musical certainly has the pins to run and run for a lot longer yet." The Daily Mirror
"Blood Brothers would scarcely have run for a decade if it were at root an earnest treatise about the inequality of opportunity in modern England. Whatever its rational pretensions, the piece beats with a primitive heart. Willy Russell virtually concedes as much by failing to explain why, in defiance of social probability and the class logic he is busily exposing, Eddie and Mickey meet as boys, exchange blood vows, and remain close friends into their prime. He is exploiting the myths and legends about the eerie symbiosis of twins. He is writing a folk ballad for the Thatcher and post-Thatcher eras - and why not? Somewhere here is the basic explanation for the show's continuing attraction; but Bob Tomson's production is still a pacey, lively affair, especially when the adults play their childhood selves... Should the miking be adjusted to produce a less lacquered sound? Certainly. But whatever the cavils, Blood Brothers is still one of the best pieces of popular theatre around." The Times
"Emerging during the decade that landed us with Cats and Starlight Express, Blood Brothers was always something of an anomaly as an Eighties musical. It dealt with ordinary, recognised people, for a start, rather than a menage of poetic moggies or a set of singing choo-choos. It was on a humane scale, too: you did not go out humming the lavish set and the budget... Adroitly entwining the culturally specific and the mythic, the show expresses pain at the human devastation caused by Thatcherite economics via a folk-tale plot about the bond over two decades between twins who are separated at birth, brought up on different sides of the Liverpudlian class divide, and apprised of their true relationship only at the tragic denouement... Yes, it is true that Blood Brothers pushes the discrepancy between the twins' life chances to extremes and is not above loading the dice musically either. But its heart is in the right place - how many musicals present a social argument of any kind? For that alone I raise my glass." The Independent
Blood Brothers in London at the Albery Theatre previewed from 20 July 1988, opened 28 July 1988, and closed 16 November 1991, transferred to the Phoenix Theatre from 21 November 1991, and closed on 10 November 2012