It’s been a hell of a year for musicals in Blackpool.
A relentless string of big shows have arrived direct from the West End, a smack in the eye to those who say the resort doesn’t have pulling power any more.
Last week we had Will Young in Cabaret (and before that there was Joseph, Priscilla, Soul Sister, etc).
This week it is Willy Russell’s Blood Brothers, produced by the maestro himself, Bill Kenwright, and starring local favourite Maureen Nolan.
It is, I have no hesitation in writing, superb.
The play premiered three decades ago but remains as fresh and as watchable as when it first started.
People come to see it again and again, testament to Russell’s fantastic writing. He is responsible for everything, the dialogue, the songs. The story is so strong, hilarious yet tragically sad (and when you can successfully mix those two elements you’ve cracked it).
In short, Blood Brothers ticks all the boxes and explains why it has been the huge success it has (it is, for the record, the third longest-running musical production in West End history and has been performed in most countries on the planet).
The plot, for those not already familiar with it, involves desperately hard-up single mum Mrs Johnstone giving away one of her new-born twins. The twins later meet and become best friends but their different backgrounds take them to opposite ends of the social spectrum, one becomes a councillor, the other unemployed and in prison.
They fall in love with the same girl, which leads to a gripping finale.
Nolan is wonderful as Mrs Johnstone, nailing the Scouse accent (which bodes well for when she performs the show in Liverpool next week) and proving she can still sing as well as she could 30 years ago, hitting every note. She looked as though she enjoyed every moment of performing in front of her hometown crowd and had tears streaming down her face as she soaked up the applause at the end – late sister Bernie, who also played the role of Mrs Johnstone, no doubt in her thoughts.
Sean Jones and Mark Hutchinson as the brothers were outstanding, pretty much faultless, and got the most out of the many comic moments in Russell’s script.
Jones, in particular, delivered a devastating portrayal of his character Mickey. Then there’s narrator Warwick Evans, boy can he sing.
It was sometimes difficult to make out exactly what the characters were singing, the sound of the orchestra just a tad too loud. But it was probably an opening night hitch and will surely be rectified as the week goes on.
It barely mattered, though, for this is a brilliant version of an outstanding musical, and you should definitely think about getting tickets before the show’s run at the Opera House ends on Saturday night.