On the fifth day of the Playbill On-Line Theatre Tour to London's West End, the group spent the morning exploring the rebuilt replica of William Shakespeare's Globe Theatre on the south bank of the Thames. The dream of American-born director and theatre lover Sam Wanamaker, the theatre reopened for an abbreviated season in summer 1996, and is preparing a full season in 1997.
Built to the "wooden O" specifications of the original, which burned down in the 17th century, the new Globe is open to the sky like the original, and will have a space for "groundlings" in front of the stage and backless benches in the gallery. The Globe is situated very near the site of the original (now under a bridge approach). Walking the ground where some of our greatest plays were first seen by the public was a unique treat for our pilgrimage.
In the evening, by demand of the majority of the group, we saw Willy Russell's long-running musical hit, Blood Brothers, at the Phoenix Theatre.
The story of twin brothers, separated at birth, one raised by his natural mother, who lives in the slums of Liverpool, the other raised by a rich family living in an estate on a hill. The twins, Mickey and Edward, coincidentally become friends, not knowing they are brothers. But economics and the British class system eventually bring on a tragic clash.
Despite a London drizzle, several of Playbill On-Line's guests were so consumed by the play, they stood outside on Shaftsbury Avenue to articulate their feelings for nearly 10 minutes. We gradually made our way back to the hotel, where the debate continued in the Polo Lounge. Things got so interesting, several of the other hotel guests played audience as we talked into the night. Here are selections from the guests' opinions:
Sandra Caliguiri of New Jersey:
I was really surprised when tears came. They took me totally by surprise after they [the brothers] were shot, when everybody comes on stage. Knowing what was going to happen [because the audience sees the bodies onstage in the first scene] made it more intense. I kept saying, "No, that's not going to happen. The narrator will be wrong." I still feel it right in my core.
I absolutely loved the music. The class-difference angle was obvious to me. It didn't seem that big of an issue.
It's a tragedy. Things in life just happen that way. He [Mickey (Stephen Palfreman)] was innocent. He shouldn't have gone to jail. Life sucks sometimes. But a lot of people I saw started crying.
Lester Bushman of Pennsylvania:
Wow! What a score! This was the easiest time that I ever had, giving a standing ovation. When they put the black coat on Eddie [Mark Hutchinson], and then the mother put her own coat on Mickey, that moved me so much. I was so moved today!
In score I liked "Marilyn Monroe -- I Go Dancing." I can't believe the same man wrote book, lyrics AND music. The pace of the production was wonderful. It reminded me of West Side Story in the way it showed the conflict among young people. Finally, the last scene was so great!
Jill Anderson of Texas:
I adored the music, but the speakers were blasting and it threw me. I thought Siobhan McCarthy was miscast and misdirected. When I saw her standing there, I thought, 'I just can't believe this.' She was brunette when she began. They kept comparing her to Marilyn Monroe, so it didn't make sense.
Here she is, saying 'I'm 25 and I look 40,' and she's supposed to have seven kids -- and she's gorgeous. Her hair looks like a Prell commercial. She looks like she just spent a week at a spa. She looked younger than the woman playing Linda [her son's girlfriend]. Her children are filthy and she's just gorgeous. That ruined it for me.
By contrast, Mrs. Lyons [Sarah Hay, the rich woman she gives one of her twins to], I felt her pain from the minute she opened her mouth. I thought she was the best in the cast. The lighting [by Jon Swain] was good, though it was very distracting to me to see the orchestra on the sides of the stage.
Worst of all was the loud music. The noise was so bad, I was in pain. I'm glad I had these [ear plugs]. I thought I'd have to leave at intermission. But then I was glad I stayed. The twins [Stephen Palfreman and Mark Hutchinson] were perfect. You could really believe they were brothers. Linda [understudy Louise Russell] was terrific -- and she was a stand-in! The music was haunting. The Narrator [Keith Burns] was weak at the beginning but go stronger and stronger.
And then comes that last line [from Mickey]. "Why didn't you give me away? I could have been him." That's the saddest thing I ever heard!
Alfred Anderson of Texas:
It was my second time seeing it. I've listened to the tape so many times since I saw it in Dallas. I've always been captivated by the music. I liked her [Siobhan McCarthy] and that's all I was paying attention to. Even the cast was in tears [at curtain call]. That didn't help my composure.
William Kelleher of New Jersey:
I didn't like it as well as When We Are Married. I do like musicals, though. I'd see My Fair Lady every night.
David Taylor of New Jersey:
I'd give it a 4 out of 10. I thought it was downbeat, but very well done. All the actors were good, especially the mother [Mrs. Johnstone, Siobhan McCarthy]. I couldn't understand all the dialog and the accents. The second act was better than the first; it moved along a little more briskly. But I didn't feel particularly moved at the end.
Alice Whitehead of New Jersey:
I thoroughly enjoyed the play, but I could never give up a child like that. It was very touching to me that she could do that.
They all have wonderful voices. But I don't like to hear the F-word. It makes me uncomfortable. I did like the dances. I liked that they had them doing the Lindy, like we used to do. I guess the message is: You can't buy happiness, can you? I stood and applauded, but I didn't cry. They said I'd cry.
Selma English of New Jersey:
You hear those words now and then, but I thought the spitting was vulgar.
William Coakley of New Jersey:
I liked the [actor who played] Mickey. The whole thing about Marilyn Monroe, I thought, had to do with her [the mother, Mrs. Johnstone's] class in life. She wanted to be a Marilyn Monroe; it was her dream. The writer [Willy Russell] wanted there to be an undercurrent of the class system, and she was trying to make it into that class.
Clifton Hieronymus of Ohio:
Marilyn Monroe was an icon of blue collar society, especially in London. It was one of the most clever productions I've ever seen. The moving sets were just unrolling before your eyes.
Camille Hieronymus of Ohio
Interestingly, we've seen three shows this week whose central issue was a childless couple: [Martin and Bertrande in] Martin Guerre, [George and Martha in] Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and [Mr. And Mrs. Lyons in] Blood Brothers. I guess the most important thing in life is your friends and your children.
I almost wish they hadn't shown [the dead bodies of the two brothers] at the beginning [because it killed the play's suspense]. They should consider starting 10 minutes into the beginning.
The most emotional part was when Eddie comes back from collage [and the boys' class differences first become painful]. He didn't want to be in that position.
Donna English of New Jersey:
The music was so loud, it was hard to hear. It was also hard to follow their accents.
Janet Allgair of New Jersey:
That cast was tremendous. The mother, Mrs. Johnstone, was fantastic. Her voice and acting were right on target. Very believable. She did it beautifully. I liked all the women. Linda was fantastic when she went from playing a little kid to being 17.
Marion Dabulas of New Jersey:
If they'd take some of the [foul] language out of that show, you could take children to it. Do they know what they have? It was the real world. But they shouldn't have had bodies on stage at the beginning. You would have cried more. The narrator was very unusual, but it was perfect.
Playbill On-Line has been reporting from London throughout the week of Nov. 19-24. Also, on their own, members of the group plan to see Les Miserables, Miss Saigon Phantom of the Opera, Starlight Express, Scrooge, Laughter on the 23rd Floor, The Compleat Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged), By Jeeves, When We Are Married, A Doll's House and others. Our next and final dispatch will be posted upon our return, Nov. 24.
Playbill is planning more exciting Preview Tours to London in spring and summer of 1997. We get the toughest tickets for the newest productions, and post guests' reviews online. For inquiries, call Beverly Markman or Roberta Cohen at (800) 554-7513.
-- By Robert Viagas