Blood Brothers by Willy Russell (Shirley Valentine, Educating Rita) previews May 30 and opens June 4 for a 15-week run at the Royal Alexandra Theatre in Toronto.
Blood Brothers is the story of twin brothers, Mickey and Eddie, who are separated at birth. Eddie is raised in wealthy surroundings and Mickey raised in near poverty.
This is the 17th production of Blood Brothers for artistic producer Bob Thomson. "Willy Russell and I grew up in the same locale and generation as the Beatles," Thomson said. "Everyone we knew joined a rock band. He [Russell] joined a Liverpool church choir. Bill had lost contact with his own brother, but he came to see the show and wrote him: 'Is that what you do? Can we meet again?'"
In this production, Thomson says: "There are no helicopters, no barricades to climb. The only thing that lands on the stage is truth. What goes up and down is your heart."
Blood Brothers is an intensely personal, internationally acclaimed musical about family conflict; has played in Japanese in Japan, in Spanish and Argentina, in Italian in Milan. This particular production is new for the Toronto production at the Royal Alexandra Theatre with a truly international celebrity cast. Michael Burgess plays The Narrator who is never off stage for the 87 scenes. Michael says: "I just plunged in. I am the luckiest person in the world. Willy Russell's writing is very particular; so creative in a deeply intense way. The Narrator is an unusual part, who moves along the narration of the story. As to who he is, we'll find out. He is an unusually written character, fascinating, with a real presence, involved in the story, apart from it, and yet unable to change it. Kids are often fascinated by this character and think of him as God or the devil or the family's father."
Burgess is perhaps best known for originating Jean Valjean in the Canadian premiere production of Les Miserables, where he debuted in 1989 at the Royal Alexandra, and took on tour throughout Canada to great critical acclaim. He played it for over 1000 performances. Michael Burgess was also honored to participate in the Les Miserables10th Anniversary Concert in London, England.
He returned to the Royal Alexandra in 1993 to star in the title role of Man of La Mancha. Born in Regina, Saskatchewan and raised in Toronto, Michael has had an extensive career in the entertainment industry over the last 25 years.
His other stage credits include Ten Lost Years, Pinocchio, Twelfth Night, and Noel Coward's play Hay Fever. His musical credits include roles in Kismet, Side by Side by Sondheim, Jacques Brel and H.M.S. Pinafore. Michael also starred in the award winning feature film, Entry in a Diary. His television credits include "The Campbells," "Top Cops," "Street Legal, Bordertown and Michael Burgess at Massey Hall, a Gemini award-winning CBC special. Regarding the Liverpool accent, Michael says: "Accent happens; it is what happened in the character."
David Cassidy plays the role of Mickey, opposite Eddie who is the posh kid played by Mark Hutchinson.
"My life is a parallel with Mickey. I was brought up in a small town in a working class environment. At age 3, my father (Jack Cassidy) left, so my mother (Evelyn Ward) raised me. My brothers Shawn, Patrick and Ryan were all brought up in Beverly Hills with my dad and step mother (Shirley Jones).
"Mickey gets more real. We play it real every night. Every night I discover it differently. Mickey is one of those tragic stories about people who fall through the cracks. Mickey is one of those, also a victim of substance abuse." When patrons leave the theatre, they think of the way ahead and relate it to their life experiences. David Cassidy has also played this role with his real brother Shaun playing the part of Eddie opposite him three years ago on Broadway. The relationships some of the cast have had with their own families underscores the universal story of Blood Brothers, bringing realism to every scene. During the play, the cast ages from seven years old to 30. David Cassidy's son Beau is 5 and has seen the play. He enjoys Dad at his best -- a rebellious 7 year old! David's professional debut was straight onto Broadway in The Fig Leaves are Falling, with Dorothy Loudon and Barry Nelson. He appeared in dramatic roles on television in "Marcus Welby," "MD," "Bonanza" and "The F.B.I." Then came "The Partridge Family," and as Keith he was an instant international success. He sold more than 15 million records and performed to sold out concerts in the largest arenas around the world. He received an Emmy nomination for Outstanding Dramatic Performance for "A Chance To Live" (a television episode). His own drama series "Man Undercover" followed, along with numerous television movies.
Returning to the theatre in the '80's, David Cassidy appeared with the national company of Little Johnny Jones, starred as Judd in Bernard Slade's Tribute, had a successful run on Broadway in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, and in the musical Time, in London's West End.
He has continued to write music and record. He and his wife, Sue Shifrin wrote the official anthem for Rebuild L.A. last year. David also wrote and performed the title theme to the NBC series "The John Larroquette Show."
Amy Sky plays the leading role of Mrs. Johnstone, the mother of the two blood brothers. She had several hurdles to cross to get the role, one of which was to get across the ocean to audition in England without a valid passport. This will be her professional acting debut. She managed a Sunday overnight flight, auditioned with Bill Kenwright on Monday morning, and joined rehearsal at 1 PM Monday afternoon. Amy Sky is a Toronto-based singer and songwriter who has just released her new CD Cool Rain. Her songwriting career has included writing for Melissa Manchester, Oliver Newton-John, Diana Ross, Anne Murray and Reba McEntire. Mrs. Johnstone is a role that is as in-depth as Shirley Valentine and Educating Rita.
"Blood Brothers is more of a folk opera than a musical -- it's rock 'n' roll," she said
On stepping into a major piece with seasoned actors, she said: "If it was a different kind of a musical I would have been scared off. But I relate to the role. Mrs. Johnston is a survivor, humorous, who keeps getting up again, full of love, the joy of life and fiercely protective of her brood. The music and melodies are where I am coming from and it speaks for itself."
Mark Hutchinson, who was the toast of Broadway and London's West End in the role of Eddie, is in Toronto to play the role again. In the USA, he won the Drama Desk Award for Best Supporting Actor. Asked how he felt about playing the role, "I get to cry, die, spit and swear on stage -- it's brilliant!
"A piece all of us, on a human level, can relate to. I want to see it happen."
Also making her return to Toronto is Jan Graveson, who will again portray Linda. Jan received a nomination for Best Supporting Actress in a Musical for her portrayal.
Mrs. Lyons is played by Samantha Hughes, Mr. Lyons is portrayed by Mark Stratford and Sammy is played by Peter Faulkner.
Thompson says it is a tough show to keep fresh. "This cast, however, brings their own two it. It's like a Liverpool West Side Story."
Tickets are available at the Royal Alexandra Theatre Box Office at 260 King Street West in Toronto or by phone at TicketKing at 416 872-1212.