In what has been a unique and golden decade for the British stage musical, the importance and the triumph of Blood Brothers is that, almost alone, it has had the courage to tackle the way we live now. Willy Russell’s book, music and lyrics are in many ways the closest we have ever come to a local “Threepenny Opera” of the English Eighties, and the result is a hard-edged, Brechtian show about twin brothers who grow up on opposite sides of the Liverpudlian social and economic tracks unaware of their true kinship until all is revealed when one inadvertently kills the other.
Like Sondheim’s Victorian Sweeney Todd, this is an angry parable about blood and death and betrayal and social corruption: it is also a marvelously tough, grainy, dark show which suggests that even in a time of high nostalgia and high-tech scenery, the musical can still be used as a contemporary theatrical form of considerable dramatic power.
Few other scores have ever attempted to tackle the urban blight of Thatcher’s Britain, and any that do will after Blood Brothers have a hard act to follow: Russell’s ability to write for a hit-squad cast capable of slamming his score out across the footlights and the orchestra pit is nowhere better expressed than on this original-cast recording of the 1988 London revival which (and not before time) turned Blood Brothers from a critical and cult success into a huge box-office winner. It remains a folk opera of and for our time, and the haunting, evocative power of its street songs will be with us for years to come.
– Sheridan Morley
1983 – It was business as normal on Merseyside – Liverpool top of the League and at Wembley again – but the word was that Everton could be on the way back – and the hottest ticket in town was not for the “derby” game but for a musical called Blood Brothers at the Playhouse.
I had loved Willy Russell’s John, Paul, George, Ringo . . . and Bert and adored his Rita, but nothing quite prepared me for my first confrontation with Mickey and Eddie, his Blood Brothers. If ever theatre was “total” for me, if ever an experience truly overwhelming, it was that night at the Lyric Theatre, Shaftesbury Avenue, when I was drained but uplifted by the sheer theatricality of an epic musical set in my beloved home town.
Like many other theatre lovers, I mourned the original production’s premature demise – and, not so secretly, set about planning what I hoped could be my part in its return.
Over the following three years Blood Brothers built up a successful reputation in repertory theatres throughout Great Britain and in 1987 Willy and Bob Swash decided that it was the right time for me to take it on an extended national tour. After years of astonishing receptions from Glasgow to Liverpool (of course!) to Chichester we decided that the moment had come to take on a chance on a return to the Capital.
On July 28 after two sold-out weeks of previews, Blood Brothers received one of the most extraordinary standing ovations in West End theatrical history, and the following morning was welcomed “Back in the West End, where it most assuredly belongs” by Jack Tinker of the Daily Mail. As I write these sleeve notes my friends Bill Freedman and Stephen Waley-Cohen of Maybox Theatres have just, through the columns of the Sunday Times, congratulated me and the production on celebrating “100 performances and 100 standing ovations” at the Albery Theatre.
I can only join with them in saluting Kiki Dee and the magnificent company, band and production team – but most of all I salute the audiences throughout Britain who would not allow this musical to disappear, but who took it to their hearts and quite rightly made it “a significant milestone in British musicals” (Clive Hirschhorn, Sunday Express).
Finally, I thank Willy Russell, who six years ago gave me the theatrical experience of a lifetime – an experience that continues to thrill me with every day that I work on his Blood Brothers.
– Bill Kenwright
Mrs. Johnstone: Kiki Dee
Narrator: Warwick Evans
Mickey: Con O’Neill
Eddie: Robert Locke
Sammy: Terry Melia
Linda: Annette Ekblom
Mrs. Lyons: Joanne Zorian
Mr. Lyons: Jeffrey Gear
Policeman/Teacher: Michael Atkinson
Donna Marie/Miss Jones: Dee Robillard
Other parts played by: Fenton Gray, David Allman, Fiona Campbell
Musical Director, Piano/Keyboards: Rod Edwards
Keyboards: Andy Spiller
Drums: Will Hill
Bass Guitar: Alyn Ross
Guitar: Terry Johnston
Saxophones: Tony McCormick
Violin: Lesley Davies
Trumpet & Flugel Horn: Ted Veasey
Percussion: Bernard Reilly
All Music and Lyrics: Willy Russell
Produced for record: Jon Miller
Executive Producer: Bill Kenwright
Engineer: Jon Walls
Associate Producers: Rod H. Coton, Lucille Wagner