Two entertainment icons of successive generations star in the national touring company of Willy Russell’s musical “Blood Brothers.” Fans of both should be pleased: She looks and sounds exactly as we remember, and his singing is considerably better than fans of “The Partridge Family” might expect of David Cassidy. Good thing, too. Russell’s story may be Dickensian, but it’s so lightweight as to make “Oliver!” look like “A Long Day’s Journey Into Night” by comparison, and “Oliver!” has better songs.
Poverty forces Mrs. Johnstone (Clark) to give away one of her two youngest children to her employer, upper-class and barren Mrs. Lyons (Priscilla Quinby).
Sworn to silence, Mrs. Johnstone won’t allow the son she keeps, Mickey (Cassidy), to play with his twin, Eddie Lyons (Tif Luckenbill, who is fine). The two boys, unaware of their blood ties, meet and become best friends, despite the efforts of their parents. Complications and tragedy ensue.
Russell, the Liverpool playwright best known in the U.S. for his much better “Educating Rita,” again examines that favorite topic of Brit authors — the class struggle. At the same time, he campaigns strongly for environment as a more important factor than heredity in determining personality type.
Mickey becomes a hoodlum, while Eddie assumes all the characteristics of a stereotypical upper-class twit. Yet they’re drawn together and, eventually, to the same woman, Linda (Yvette Lawrence).
Though it’s contrived, obvious and sans hit song, the amiability of “Blood Brothers” nearly outweighs its pretensions.
Russell’s stylized script draws from antecedents as diverse as “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown” (adults play children throughout the production) and “Our Town” (a narrator takes on various minor roles).
Russell’s narrator (Mark McGrath, nattily got up to look like David Bowie or Robert Palmer) speaks in verse, using cliches so numerous that they must be intentional. There may be a point to this, though some viewers will find it simply one more affectation.
Strong points of “Blood Brothers,” other than the principals, include a couple of supporting performances: Perry Ojeda as school overachiever Perkins gets some laughs, and John Kozeluh does what he can as Mickey and Eddie’s older brother, a role that goes nowhere.
Of particular merit are the imaginative sound and light design by Paul Astbury and Joe Atkins.
In London, the show ran briefly in 1983, and then reopened under producer Bill Kenwright in 1988. It’s still running there.
Kenwright’s U.S. production hit Broadway in 1993, and first brought together Clark and Cassidy (and his half-brother, Shaun Cassidy, as Eddie) as replacements for the British cast.