From a humble provenance, Blood Brothers played more than 10,000 performances to become the third longest-running musical production in West End history.
Originally written as a school play in 1982, Willy Russell then developed the musical for a production at the Liverpool Playhouse, in 1983. The show then transferred to London's West End on 11 April 1983 at the Lyric Theatre and ran until 22 October 1983, winning the Olivier Award for Best New Musical.
Blood Brothers will soon be wooing Melbourne audiences at Chapel Off Chapel and with Director Chris Parker at the helm it is sure to be a resounding success.
Parker trained at the Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts and has since accumulated impressive credits both as an actor and director: Crazy For You, national tour of David Williamson’s The Club, the World premiere of Sideshow Alley. He has performed in Macbeth, Romeo & Juliet, King Oedipus, After The Beep, Shane Warne The Musical, Summer Rain, Oklahoma! Mamma Mia!, Brigadoon, The Three Musketeers, Hello Dolly, Batboy, Godspell and the Australian tour of Nick Enright’s Daylight Savings. Directing credits include: Cabaret, John & Jen, Mame, Songs For A New World. Parker will soon be moving into his next project – Resident Director of Les Misérables.
But, for now, Blood Brothers is the hot ticket around town.
Parker tells me it is a story with great momentum on the page, and as a director he is really drawn to that. " The music is very familiar, which makes it very accessible for an audience. Willy Russell is a master at writing recognisable characters, and I think this is one of the reasons audiences are so moved by the story. This is a piece of theatre that no-one doesn’t like. It has moved audiences all around the world year after year – and that is a rare and wonderful thing," says Parker
Russell writes stories that hold a universal theme. Most renowned for his plays Shirley Valentine and Educating Rita, Russell explores themes that are relevant, engaging and challenging. " Blood Brothers tells the story of twin boys who were separated at birth, one growing up on a council estate and the other receiving private school education," explains parker. " The plot covers several decades, from 1958 with Marilyn Monroe at the height of her fame, through to 1984 with the industrial strikes opposing the Thatcher government. With themes of class, economic struggle, and mass unemployment this story almost feels like it should be witnessed with trepidation given our current political climate in Australia.
The central role of the twins' mother has been played by many famous actors including Barbara Dickson, Stephanie Lawrence, no fewer than four of the Nolan sisters and Petula Clark.
In this production, the role is played by the multi talented Chelsea Plumley – credits include: Promises, Promises, Kismet, Sunset Boulevard, Life’s A Circus, (each receiving Green Room Award Nominations), Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, Breast Wishes, Company, Grease, A New Brain, Tim Rice’s Concert Spectacular and Masterclass.
Plumley is joined by a stellar ensemble cast including Gareth Keegan and Matthew Bradford who undertake an unbelievable physical and emotional journey as twins Mickey and Eddie.
"What excites me most about Blood Brothers is the real characters Willy Russell has captured. The fact that the audience watches the lives of the characters play out creates an incredibly moving tale."
It would seem that a immersing himself in a moving tale is exactly what Parker enjoys most." I think my favourite directing job so far has been Les Miserables down at GPAC, " he says. "The music allows for such operatic scope, and imagination, that the possibilities feel endless. Geelong Performing Arts Centre is a large theatre with a uniquely intimate audience relationship. Andrew Bellchambers came up with a very powerful set design, and the pictures we were able to create really heightened the story. The final moment received a standing ovation every night, and that is such a rewarding moment to see your work have such an immediate effect on its audience.'
Blood Brothers is being produced by the 'Intimate theatre. Big impact' company, Manilla Street Productions. Having previously produced Bad Blood Blues, In These Shoes and Starting Here, Starting Now, the company has certainly established itself as one of quality. Manilla Street productions is currently producing the Sondheim musical Pacific Overtures and the premiere of Where Do I Begin? The Voice of Shirley Bassey, written by Matthew Robinson.
Parker's relationship with the company began some time ago and it is one of mutual admiration and respect. Parker tells me about the genesis of this relationship: "I met Karen Jemison when she returned to Australia after living in the UK for ten years, to discuss the concept of writing a show based around all the fantastic songs that have been cut from Broadway musicals. We had a great time working on that concert, and so continued to muse on what sort of theatre we wanted to create in the future. We created the Australian premiere of Paul Sirett’s Bad Blood Blues a few years back and Willy Russell’s Blood Brothers will be our third show together. We are already planning the next one!!"
Blood Brothers has an amazing genesis and is an amazing tale. Winner of Drama Desk and Tony Awards, it is a tale of dramatic truth supported by a dramatic score. And, says Parker, "The cast is incredible, the story is overwhelming, the experience is life affirming. It’s a great night in the theatre."
March 19 – April 6
The Chapel, Chapel Off Chapel