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August 1, 2008
Brothers playing brothers
Siblings in macabre twin musical have shared many a stage together
Cleveland--Broadway and the West End in London have long been battling for theatrical supremacy.
London has Andrew Lloyd Webber, for instance, but New York has the incomparable Stephen Sondheim.
Broadway gave Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd unto the world, while the best-known dark, gloomy and morbid musical from the West End is Phantom of the Opera, which was insanely popular but ripped off music from about a dozen other shows.
There is another piece of macabre musical theater that got its start in London, and while it’s no Sweeney Todd, the production has been running since 1988.
Blood Brothers, which is being produced in Cleveland by Mercury Summer Stock, tells the story of the Johnstone twins, Mickey and Eddie, who are separated at birth but keep meeting throughout their lives, with ultimately tragic consequences.
Mrs. Johnstone (Jennifer Myor), a working-class Londoner with a litter of kids already, finds herself once again up the duff shortly before her husband leaves her. When her doctor tells her she’s not having a baby, she’s having two babies, she is absolutely beside herself.
Her new job as Mrs. Lyons’ maid might have paid enough to raise one more child, but two is absolutely out of the question.
A solution presents itself, however. Mrs. Lyons (Amiee Collier) and her husband (Matthew Wiederhold) have been unable to conceive, and there is nothing in the world she wants more than a baby.
Enter the ominous narrator (Matthew Patrick), a Rod Serling type with just an element of menace about him, pointing the action in a direction that should lead to happiness, but instead ultimately drives the play to its dark end.
Mickey Johnstone (Dan Marshall) and Eddie Lyons (Brian Marshall) thus grow up in separate homes, on different sides of the tracks, so to speak. But the upper-crust Eddie finds himself drawn to the working-class Mickey, who has such a fascinating cornucopia of slang terms at his disposal.
The play shows them at seven years old, then at 16 and into their adulthoods, as the increasingly paranoid Mrs. Lyons moves Eddie away, fearing that Mrs. Johnstone wants to take him back.
If it seems odd that the actors portraying Mickey and Eddie both have the same last name, it shouldn’t. They are also blood brothers, although not twins.
Both Messrs. Marshall are gay. While they wouldn’t say which was older, both ably capture the playfulness of the young Eddie and Mickey.
Although Brian came out first, he probably had an easier time of it. When Dan came out to him on a road trip, Brian made him get out of the car and walk the five miles to the hotel.
“No one likes a copycat!” he said.
While neither of the brothers in the play is gay--in fact, they both love the same woman--Brian came out early in his college career, and Dan shortly after. They both knew early on that they wanted to be thespians.
“Watching the Muppet Show every Friday night with the family and then acting out the entire episode with our stuffed animals . . . that may have been the first clue,” they responded when asked how soon they knew they wanted to act.
The twins in Blood Brothers must be fraternal, since Dan and Brian look quite a bit different. Being brothers in real life makes it both easier and more difficult when they are cast in plays together.
“We make a great team . . . just like Bette Davis and Joan Crawford,” one or the other said in an email. “But with better makeup!”
It could have been both of them saying that--they were apparently answering the emailed questions cooperatively.
In the course of their theatrical careers, they have been in 49 shows together, 18 of them professionally.
Both are members of Actor’s Equity, the union of professional actors and stage managers--so they should have known to heed W.C. Fields’ warning not to perform seven of those shows with live animals.
In three of their productions, they have killed each other, and there was one in which their parents were the only people in the audience. That might have been a Muppet Show recap--they didn’t say.
Mercury Summer Stock is the brainchild of Pierre-Jacques Brault, an openly gay graduate of Baldwin-Wallace College’s music theater department. He co-founded the theater ten years ago.
Blood Brothers runs through July 26, and performances are at 7:30 pm in the Parma Little Theater, attached to Parma Senior High School at 6285 West 54th Street. Tickets are $15, $12 for students and seniors. Tickets and information can be attained by calling 216-7715862 or online at www.mercurysummerstock.com.