Highly Recommended ***** I always ask the same question as I watch a performance at the No Exit Café in Rogers Park- where do they find this talent? Do young actors/singers who move to Chicago seek out Fred Anzevino, or does he do his own “star search”. No matter the answer, audiences who attend his productions are always left with a wonderful feeling of being well entertained. Anzevino is also a master of taking lesser known works and bringing them to his storefront TheoUbique Cabaret Theatre with a flourish and often better than the original. Currently, they are presenting “Blood Brothers” a beautiful “Chamber Musical” written by Willy Russell. This show is probably Great Britain’s most popular musicals running 24 years. Yes, that is 24!
The touring company came through Chicago some 15 years ago and most people hardly know of this show at all. One might say that it is truly a “boutique show”, and did not do as well in New York as Great Britain, running only two years and only nominated for six Tony Awards. I suppose part of the problem is that it does not have all the glitz of what American audiences love on Broadway. The music is more to propel the story than to have show stoppers and huge production numbers. There are some very haunting melodies and songs that will bring a tear to your eye. No Exit Café is the perfect space for a show like this. The intimacy of the space allows us to feel as if we are “the proverbial fly on the wall” watching this story unfold. The basic story is one of a woman who only wants to have a good life with her family. This woman is left by her husband to raise her family alone, and is with child. The woman she works for has no children and is unable to conceive. When Mrs. Johnstone ( an amazing performance by the highly talented Kyrie Anderson) finds that she is having twins, which will hurt her financially, her employer, the barren Mrs. Lyons (deftly handled by Victoria Oliver) pleads with her to give her one to raise.
That is the premise of the story; two brothers ( not identical twins, by the way), one raised by his mother with very little, except love and the other raised by wealthy parents who can give him everything he needs and more. Mickey (Charlie Mann is terrific) is the one she kept and Edward (played to perfection by Cody Jolly), become friends by chance, despite the mothers agreeing that neither will ever know the truth, as the myths that if twins are separated at birth, and later in life find that they indeed have a twin, their death will come quickly. An old wives’ tale for sure, but as we watch the story unfold, could it be that people can make unreal things become reality? The boys become “Blood Brothers” and best of friends sharing their lives in total until they are close to adulthood.
This is a very small (in numbers only) cast with talent that would fill a huge theater with ease. Musical directory Jeremy Ramey with his three musicians ( Kevin Brown,Zachary Moore and Justin LaForte) truly makes the venue filled with great sounds.Despite being a small space, the orchestra never overpowers the performers and despite not having any microphones, we never have a problem hearing every word of every song. The other cast members that make this production special are as follows: Jordan Phelps as our Narrator leading us from start to finish taking on different personas; Darren Hill as Mr. Lyons,the lovely Dana Anderson as Linda, the love of both of the boys; Cullen Rogers as Sammy, the criminally inclined older brother and Ryan Armstrong, Ryan Dooley, Alex Knoll, Whitney Rappana and Shanna Sweeney creating all of the other characters. A solid cast!
Adam Veness has created a set in this tiny space that brings us the homes and brick walls that divide the classes, and even though they are much closer than they should be, the solid direction and acting allows us to focus on the story rather than little things like that. Veness also has assembled the props. Maya Michele Fein’s lighting is sheer perfection and Adam Goldstein has done a solid job of working with dialects that show the characters to be British, yet allow us to understand what they say. I wish more troupes would follow suit. Bill Morey has done wonders with the costumes, considering this is a small company with limited budgets and while there is not a great deal of choreography in this show, Maggie Portman does create a natural bit of dance where needed. This is a story about love. The love of a mother for her children and the sacrifice she made for the welfare of all of her children. Not wanting to give away the ending, which by the way is also the beginning, I will tell you that this is a theatrical experience that you will not want to miss. If you know this wonderful troupe, now celebrating 18 years, you know that they bring the best out of the shows they produce. If you have never attended one of their productions, you owe it to yourself to start.
Thursdays 7:30 p.m.
Fridays 8 p.m.
Saturdays 8 p.m.
Sundays 7 p.m.
Tickets are $34 and $39 ( $5 off for students and seniors) and you can also add dinner for $25 per person extra (advance reservations ONLY). To order your chance to see this amazing production call 773-347-1109 or visit www.theo-u.com
Parking is a bit tough but the side streets meters are mostly til 6 p.m. and the red line Morse Avenue stop is just steps away from the theater.
To see what others are saying, visit www.theatreinchicago.com, go to Review Round-up and click at “Blood Brothers”