There’s something fun and joyous about seeing a musical for the first time. But there’s not much joy in the Cohen Studio Theatre with the tragic story of the Johnston twins, told in BLOOD BROTHERS. Don’t misunderstand; there’s humor and laughs and even some moments of jubilation. . . but as the show goes on, darkness abounds. That’s the way its written, with lots of histrionic drama, and a bleak story. We learn very early on that two brothers who don’t know they’re brothers both meet their end and we get to experience their mutual birth, their parallel lives, and their mutual demise. It’s quite depressing.
In spite of the challenges of such a bleak show, the students at CCM have knocked this one completely out of the park. Under the guidance of director Vince DeGeorge, the principal players in the show shine brightly even if the technical elements aren’t quite what we’ve grown to expect from a show in this building.
Hannah Kornfeld is exuberant as “Mrs. Johnston”, a prolific mother, who very reluctantly gives up one of her twins to the downright nasty “Mrs. Lyons” (Brianna Barnes). Kornfeld is completely believable, and maybe because I’ve not seen her perform before, but I was totally enamored with her take on the character. Barnes, on the other hand, was so wonderful as the nice girl in GYPSY at the Covedale that I’m still marveling at her ability to play this completely despicable character with such charisma and charm. She has some of the most expressive eyes I’ve ever seen; her presence is that of a star. The world should look out for Miss Brianna Barnes.
Their two show-sons have the difficult task of playing boys, then teenagers, then young men. Finding a way to maintain the character’s tone while they grow up within two hours can’t be easy. But both Thomas Knapp and Karl Amundson make it look effortless. They are both brilliant; not only did they sing it well (you always expect that) but they acted it beautifully. There really is not a weak performance in the entire ensemble. Also, I’d be remiss not to mention Tyler Huckstep’s as the smarmy “Narrator”. He’s deliciously evil and its nice to see him featured. Kaela O’Connor is at her tomboy best as “Linda,” the mutual friend of these blood brothers and Mickey’s eventual wife. She really is an extremely versatile performer its a pleasure to another side of her (her RAGTIME performance this summer was astounding.)
Just a few things I wasn’t as impressed with: the set, while functional feels amateurish. The choice of chairs looks low-budget and cheap, as do some of the costumes. Too many ill fitting pants on many of the young men and too much black gave the appearance of being thrown together at the last minute. The performances deserve more support from the tech, especially the sound. Steve Goers piano work is impeccable (and his musical direction just gets better and better), but at times the music overpowered the singers, which makes little sense when they’re wearing microphones. Finally, the accents (well-coached by Kate Glasheen) were mostly great, but sometimes it was difficult to understand the dialogue (especially from the non-leads). These are minor quibbles, though, as this show is all about the performances – and they are fantastic.
BLOOD BROTHERS won’t go down as my favorite show, but I will remember this particular production for some time.
BLOOD BROTHERS runs through Saturday evening in the Cohen Family Studio Theater at UC-CCM. Tickets are free but are difficult to get. Your best bet would be to get there early and wait on standby for an open seat. Up next for the musical theatre program will be LEGALLY BLONDE! More information can be found here.