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Sherman Oaks

Blood Brothers: A Musical ~ Whitefire Theater ~ Sherman Oaks

Blood Brothers (Thru Nov 23) @ Whitefire Theater ~ 13500 Ventura Blvd. Sherman Oaks, CA 91423

Blood Brothers, the musical by Willy Russell, currently playing at the Whitefire Theatre on Ventura Blvd., could not have had a more timely resurrection. It is a story that explores the desperate choices people make when they are faced with financial ultimatums, plagued by the limits and fears of their own superstitions, and burdened by secrets buried in their hearts. Those secrets that, had they only been released, would have provided the abundance and freedom they longed for.

Starring Pamela Taylor as Mrs. Johnstone, the role originated by Stephanie Lawrence on Broadway in 1993, Blood Brothers, under the direction of Bryan Rasmussen, is set in South Central L.A., as opposed to the original setting in Liverpool, England. Two twins, Mickey (Eduardo Enrikez) and Eddie (Ryan Nealy), are separated shortly after birth by their single mother, Mrs. Johnstone (Taylor), who already has more seeds than the Jolie-Pitt’s. In order to lessen the suffering of her existing brood and generously build a wealthy couple into a complete family, Mrs. Johnstone keeps one child, while her reproductively challenged, but rich boss, Mrs. Lyons (Judy Norton), takes the other. I wonder if it ever crossed Mrs. Lyons’ mind to just give her struggling employee a raise instead of snatching a child. Nevertheless, this life-changing decision plagues both women with an eternity of guilt and deception that is ultimately defeated by the ‘blood-tie’ between the two twins, who struggle their way to the fatal truth. In the number ‘Shoes upon the Table,’ their tragic resolution is foreshadowed by the ominous folk-superstition of a pair of new shoes placed on a tabletop.

Rasmussen’s choice to cast two actors with different ethnicities as the twins is a clear nod to a North American audience. The chemistry between the two brothers on stage and the urgency of Taylor’s performance are what bring the show together. The two principle actors, Enrikez and Nealy, give fantastic performances; ranging from childhood playmates to young adults who struggle with their identities in the face of socio-economic boundaries. Enrikez gradually delivers an honest soul whose character becomes swallowed by the unbearable guilt of not being, or having, enough. They are joined by Sita Young, fresh from New York, who plays Linda, the love interest that indirectly turns the twins against each other. Young is nuanced, specific, grounded, coy, and brazen at the same time. She may be"‘young," but her acting is seasoned.

Some of the musical interludes in between scenes give the show a near soap-opera atmosphere, and costumes could have been more contrasting, especially between the rich and poor folk. Taylor gives a heartbreaking performance in ‘Easy Terms.’ Other musical strengths are “Long Sunday Afternoon," “I’m Not Saying a Word,” (Nealy and Young) and the company finale "Tell Me It's Not True." The show, running through November 23rd, is nearly three hours long with one fifteen-minute intermission and Act II runs smoother than Act I, which could use some tightening in the staging for the Narrator (Gil Darnell) who comes in and out of the action, as a shadow of the human conscience.

Blood Brothers is more than relevant to the questions this country is coming around to asking itself after its 40-year shopping spree. Amid the world’s current economic crisis and the daily political farce that threatens our reality, somedays it seems we live in the Twilight Zone. What happens when superstition belies reason? Where we are plagued by our beliefs and forget our convictions? What happens when we become mired in so much material suffering that we can not see what we are actually giving up? And who is to say what each of us would do if we were in another's shoes? At least keep them off the table.

- Review by Asian Taco Chick

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