Blood Brothers

Trinity Street provides an engaging local premiere of the long-running British musical

Arts Review

Blood Brothers

Black Box Theatre, 901 Trinity, 402-3086
Through June 24
Running Time: 2 hr., 30 min.

Blood Brothers, Willy Russell's intimate folk musical chronicling the parallel lives of twin boys separated at birth, has enjoyed a prominent place in London theatre for the past gazillion years. OK, more like 30. The point is, this is a show with a run beating that of the longest in Broadway's history (a record currently held by The Phantom of the Opera). Fleeting it's not. Yet, to my knowledge (and director Bob Beare's), this is the first time that Blood Brothers has been produced by an Austin company.

Trinity Street Players performs in one of my favorite theatre spaces in town, a black box on the fourth floor of First Baptist Church. It's a perfect venue for this chamber-style show, with seating for no more than 100 or so. Given the intensely intimate setting (and high quality sound design by Phil Kokajko), audience members will have no trouble hearing the actors or navigating their well-coached dialects. (Lesley A. Dean-Jones serves as "accent director.") But those who choose to attend would be well advised to arrive early enough to claim seats in the thrust space's center section, as unfortunately much of the staging fails to take into account the audience on the sides. Though seated in the center section myself, I imagine that those on either side experienced a substantial amount of profile views and found the show's otherwise powerful finale, which was focused almost exclusively downstage, considerably less poignant.

But the production boasts its share of highlights. Of special note is Ann Pittman, who, in the taxing role of Mrs. Johnstone, mother to the estranged twins, delivers a heartfelt, passionate performance in which neither her voice nor character arc falters. Equally engaging is Steve Williams, who doubles as the show's narrator and set designer. Skillfully walking the narrator's tightrope, he strikes a careful balance between villain and commentator. For an opening night, the show's technical aspects were especially well-executed and the cast's energy respectably strong throughout.

Blood Brothers is not one of my favorite musicals. To me, the score becomes pedantic and repetitive early on, which would cause almost any production to plod to some degree. Though there are indeed moments of lull here, they don't repeat nearly as much as the score's songs, styles, and motifs (we hear about Marilyn Monroe in pretty much every other lyric). On the contrary, this production manages to move along and keep us engaged (at least those of us in the center section). Best yet, admission is free. Kudos to Trinity Street and First Baptist for inviting us into their theatrical fold, asking for no more than our reciprocal engagement in their dramatic offering and for the courageous gift of a local premiere.

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