Blood Brothers at Collingswood Community Theatre

There’s an old superstition that people who miss the Collingswood Community Theatre’s summer show will experience a dull theatrical season. Perhaps playing to that myth the company staged a show that gave it credence.

Those who’ve ever put their shoes on the table will reconsider after seeing Blood Brothers. Those contemplating handing over a newborn twin to a bitter psychopathic woman and then reneging on a promise not to tell the children they are brothers will rethink that decision; to the extent that’s something anyone is actually considering doing. After making sure I avoided black cats in my path, being careful not to walk under any ladders and brushing my teeth to avoid so-called ‘cavities,’ I entered the theatre for the closing performance. It occurred in the Grand Ballroom at the Scottish Rite Theatre on June 29th. Kerry Mahoney directed.

Blood Brothers presented an unusual story line for depicting class divisions in modern Britain. Mrs. Johnstone (played by Lisa Kain Marcelli) and Mrs. Lyons (Faith Charlton) each experienced child bearing issues. The latter couldn’t conceive and her husband (Matt Griffin) refused to adopt. The former was on pace to produce enough progeny to rival the descendants of Abraham.

Mrs. Johnstone struggled with finances and found herself working as housekeeper for the affluent Mrs. Lyons. A doctor informed Mrs. Johnstone that she carried twins. While financially prepared for another child, she couldn’t handle two. The women came up with a solution for both their troubles.

They made a pact that Mrs. Lyons would raise one of the children as her own. As part of this agreement, they would never inform the children they were twins. Mrs. Lyons told of a superstition that separated twins would die if they discovered the truth. To persuade Mrs. Johnstone to agree with the arrangement, Mrs. Lyons explained that since she employed the mom-to-be, she’d get to see her child every day. What a great idea! Everyone wins, right?

No so. It turned out that Mrs. Lyons possessed a malicious and unstable personality. She believed Mrs. Johnstone too fawning over “her” son and decided to fire her. Problem solved. Not for long.

Years later Mrs. Johnstone’s seven year old son Mickey (Brian Kain) made a new friend at the park. Upon discovering that he and Eddie (Ryan Adams) shared the same birthday, they connected. They cemented the friendship by becoming “blood brothers.” Both mothers ended the relationship when they discovered that Eddie and Mickey were the Johnstone twins.

This time Mrs. Lyons opted for a more permanent solution. She talked her husband into moving the family to “the country.” This worked as well as her previous remedy. Seven years later the Lyons family moved into the same area as part of a British government housing program. Mikey and Eddie reconnected. With the passage of time, Mikey’s working class financial struggles and Eddie’s affluent background strained their friendship. Then both fell in love with the same woman, Linda. (Stef Bucholski)

Tears flowed both on and off the stage at the show’s conclusion.

It’s difficult to find the right superlatives to describe Lisa Kain Marcelli’s performance. She played the role to perfection. The performer sang an incredible rendition of the catchy “Marilyn Monroe” trilogy. I wished someone recorded it. Ms. Marcelli and the orchestra, led by Zach Wisely, played the song much better than the London cast’s version. With all the reverb on that one, it sounded like they performed it in the Grand Canyon.

Ms. Marcelli always displayed the proper facial expressions to convey her character’s emotions; and Mrs. Johnstone experienced a range of them. The performer showed despair when she gave up one of her children. She played the scene where she gave Eddie a locket with great tenderness. I also enjoyed her transition from nostalgia to sadness during the “Marilyn Monroe” numbers.

Ms. Marcelli impressed the most at the end of the show. She managed to croon “Tell Me It’s Not True” while crying, singing in an English accent and staying in key. That performance will stay with me.

Chris Fitting played the Narrator. Readers of this blog are familiar with my objection to making “The Narrator” a character in a live performance. After all I’m watching it. I don’t feel the need for someone to tell me what I already know I’m seeing. This time I will credit playwright Willy Russell for his creativity with the role. He made his Narrator a tuxedo clad Rod Serling figure who spoke in the syntax of Dr. Seuss. What a combination!

Mr. Fitting expressed the rhyming couplets perfectly. He spoke clearly using the right rhythm and without stumbling over the words. I also enjoyed the minatory delivery method he employed. Through sheer skill Mr. Fitting shaped “The Narrator” into the most unique character I’ve watched performed on stage.

Blood Brothers marked the first time I’ve heard a real Heavy Metal song in a musical’s soundtrack. Mr. Fitting belted out “The Devil’s Got Your Number” like a man possessed. He nailed the feel of the song while capturing the character’s essence at the same time. Bravo.

Faith Charlton possesses a gift for accents. I enjoyed the one she chose for Mrs. Lyons. It sounded like that of an upper class British woman with a hint of madness to it. It suited the role brilliantly.

Ms. Charlton also has a wonderful singing voice. She delivered a beautiful version of “My Child” along with Ms. Marcelli.

As extraordinary as her vocal skills are Ms. Charlton can communicate even more effectively with a look. During one scene she walked to the front row and sat with the audience. She glared at Ms. Marcelli with a blank look that expressed seething rage. She horrified me. Ms. Charlton made it clear that something bad was about to happen to the person on the other end of that stare.

Brian Kain, Ryan Adams and Stef Bucholski played very challenging roles. During the course of the show, their characters took the stage as seven, 14 and 18 year olds. Their renditions of the seven year olds impressed me the most. All three performers jumped about the stage and spoke in higher pitched voices just like children.

The three characters changed as they grew up. Mr. Kain became angry, drug addicted and desperate. Ms. Bucholski transitioned from a care-free young lady into a pregnant woman struggling through a failing marriage. Mr. Adams turned into a well-adjusted, successful professional.

These performers showed excellent chemistry working together. They brought out how the characters’ childhood friendships developed into a devastating love triangle. They made that progression credible.

Mr. Kain and Mr. Adams teamed up for some terrific duets with the numbers “Long Sunday Afternoon/My Friend” and “That Guy.” As the project’s vocal director Mr. Kain led by example with some excellent singing of his own. While I’ve called him “the King of the F Clef” for his superb bass vocals Mr. Adams continues to impress with his skill in the higher registers, too.

I have to admit it disappointed me that Ms. Bucholski didn’t get to sing any solo numbers in this show. With the way the story developed I figured a song about her character’s travails would’ve been perfect for her soulful singing style. Hopefully, we’ll have the opportunity to hear her sing in a near future production.

The performance featured a remarkable ensemble. I’d also like to compliment Matt Griffin, Ryan Piccone, Olivia Marcelli, Adam Nicely, Ian McGowan, Caitlin Halligan, Ryann Burke, Kara Hastings, Emily Jackson, Neil Wettstein, Lindsay Wettstein and Tom Geigel for their work in the show.

I did have one issue with the sound. The drums sounded too loud on occasion. While many purists prefer real drums to the electronic variety, it’s much easier to control the volume of the latter. At times I thought the performers struggled to broadcast over them.

I’d praise Mary Baldwin for the light design, Sarah Baldwin for her work on the light board, and Leah Marcelli and Katie Cotter for their use of the spotlights. They enhanced the story by adding a chilling effect.

The Collingswood Community Theatre troupe presented an ode to superstition that would’ve made both Stevie Wonder and Jeff Beck proud. I have to admit that I was among those who shed tears at the show’s conclusion. It wasn’t because of the story, though. I realized it’s going to be another year until we get to experience a stellar production from them in the Grand Ballroom at the Scottish Rite. Based on the group’s history I know theatregoers won’t have to rub their lucky rabbits’ feet for that to happen.

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