Chicago Theatre Review
A Total Cult Classic of the Heart
Blood Brothers -Theo Ubique Cabaret Theatre
Cult musicals, as would be expected, have their devoted followers in New York and London. Eventually they make their way to Chicago, usually playing at one of our many excellent storefront theatres. Recently we’ve enjoyed excellent productions of such cult musicals as “Carrie,” “Wild Party,” “The Boy From Oz” and currently Chicago is being treated to a terrific production of “Side Show.” Fred Anzevino has continually shown a fondness for the theatrical underdog, having discovered much merit in presenting rich, stellar, intimate productions of such shows as “Chess,” “Passion” and “Aspects of Love.” Now the man with the golden touch opens his 2015-16 season with this West End and Broadway success that not only boasts its own devotees, but is sure to win over new converts.
With a book, music and lyrics written by British playwright and composer Willy Russell, the artist responsible for such stage and film hits as “Educating Rita” and “Shirley Valentine,” this cult musical opened in London’s West End in 1983. While it only enjoyed a brief run it managed to earn the Olivier Award for Best New Musical. The show’s popularity spawned a year-long National Tour, which in turn prompted a new West End production. This polished revival went on to play for a record 24 years. Russell’s musical eventually made its way to Broadway in 1993, where it played for two years and generated an American National Tour. The show’s been out of the limelight for the past 20 years, partially due to its old-fashioned format, its ballad-heavy score and a fable-like plot; however for avid musical theatre aficionados, “Blood Brothers” remains a favorite. Now a whole new audience will have a chance to enjoy this cult classic in Theo Ubique’s riveting, intimate new production.
The question arises with every Theo Ubique production: where does Artistic Director Fred Anzevino find so many talented, new actor/singers? No doubt, the company’s popularity and proven track record of hit shows (earning over 40 Jeff Awards) draws young, aspiring professionals to audition for this talented director and his creative team. This cast is no exception.
Led by the beautiful Kyrie Anderson as Mrs. Johnstone, this gifted artist, making her debut at the No Exit Cafe Theatre, is the heart and soul of this production. Ms. Anderson’s crystal clear voice, warm smile and solid, no-nonsense characterization combines into a textured portrayal of a single mother who, due to hard times, is forced to give away one of her newborn twin boys. Her hope is that both children will ultimately have a better life. The hurt in this actress’ eyes is balanced by the steely strength and power of a woman who knows pain and poverty firsthand and yet keeps on going, for the sake of her family. This is a young actress to watch.
Good-looking actor/singer Charlie Mann plays Mickey, the twin raised by his mother. Recently relocated to Chicago, the young performer possesses a beautiful voice with an astounding, expressive range. His sweet, yet feisty characterization of a young boy growing amid constant turmoil is heartbreaking. As both a child and a teenager Mr. Mann is funny and convincing, yet the boy’s underlying longing and hurt is always there. However, Charlie’s growth to manhood, burdened by so many obstacles, are the most tragic and touching moments. By the end of this unhappy story, audiences will find themselves trying to understand how things went so horribly wrong for this poor, young man.
Cody Jolly, another newcomer to Theo Ubique, is likable, honest and tenderhearted as Mickey’s twin brother, Eddie. He, too, brings a handsome countenance and a bright, lustrous voice and acting style to his role. As the child who was adopted by a wealthy family, Eddie has enjoyed all the benefits of class and money, yet he’s still unhappy and lonely. Sheltered by his overly-protective mother (Mrs. Lyons is nicely played by a rigid, obstinate Victoria Olivier), Eddie accidentally meets Mickey. They turn into fast friends, especially when the boys discover they’re not only the same age but share the same birthday. Mickey and Eddie become blood brothers, ironically wishing they were actually related. In the end, it’s observed that they also both share the same demise.
Jordan Phelps, a dashing young actor with gorgeous, trained vocal skills, is superb as the Narrator. Mr. Phelps fills in the blanks, providing Mrs. Johnstone’s backstory and, from time to time, plays devil’s advocate. His commentary is appreciated, although often cynical. The versatile actor takes on several smaller roles, as well, including Joe the milkman, during which he’s able to interact with Mrs. Johnstone and the other characters. This suave, personable young man is the audience’s connection to everyone else in the play, much like Che in “Evita.” Although he’s already appeared in several other area productions, Mr. Phelps is another actor to watch.
The entire ensemble is outstanding, as is mega-talented Jeremy Ramey’s musical direction. Leading an instrumental combo of drums, bass and guitar, Mr. Ramey’s piano accompaniment is like hearing an entire orchestra playing. In fact, a whole evening devoted to Jeremy Ramey on the keyboard would be a true pleasure. Once again scenic designer Adam Veness creates an environment that artistically fills the humble No Exit venue while offering the actors a multifaceted playground. Adam Goldstein’s fine dialect coaching reward the audience with a clear, understandable performance; and Bill Morey has created a wardrobe of costumes that’s very appropriate to time and place.
Fred Anzevino has done it again. He’s brought new life and deep-felt integrity to a show that’s either unknown to contemporary audiences or has been forgotten, except to the fans of this cult musical. With this cast of extraordinary actor/singers, marvelous musical and artistic accompaniment, heartfelt direction and a poignant, old-fashioned story that touches the soul, he has conceived another hit production for this much-accoladed theatre company. This season opener is a definite must-see show.
Reviewed by Colin Douglas
Presented September 26-November 15 by Theo Ubique Cabaret Theatre at the No Exit Cafe, 6970 N. Glenwood Ave., Chicago.
Tickets are available by going to www.theo-u.com.
Additional information about this and other area productions can be found by visiting www.theatreinchicago.com.