Having seen countless Nolan sisters, Lyn Paul (three times) and the wonderful Melanie C as Willy Russell's iconic Mrs Johnstone in his hit musical Blood Brothers, I was sceptical about Niki Evans. After all, stunt casting may have kept Chicago in the headlines but does it reward the audience? So how did the former X Factor contestant do as Mrs J?
Well, apart from a wobbly Liverpudlian accent, Niki's vocal ability cannot be denied and now she is away from the shackles of Cowell's cash cow - she exhibits something many of these wannabes lack, control. She saves herself vocally, realising that less is indeed more. Apt really as this sums up the narrative of Blood Brothers - which focuses on a working class single mother who has had one child too many. Her middle class boss, childless Mrs Lyons seizes the opportunity to display some thinly disguised altruism by offering to take one of Mrs Johnstone's twins off her hands.
This could be played like a panto as there is so much melodrama here that many other performers have overcooked this piece - leaving you with burnt offerings. But this latest touring version does convey restraint where required. From Tracey Spencer's sad and lonely middle class housewife, Mrs Lyons through to Sean Jones' and Paul Davies' chalk and cheese Blood Brothers - each performer holds back. This means they hit emotional pay dirt during the heartbreaking denouement.
The musical arrangements may be dated and sound slightly tinny. But Evans is a natural Mrs J in that she does not attempt the runs of her younger co-stars on X Factor. Instead she delivers a nuanced and poignant turn as a frightened yet stoic mother. Kelly-Anne Gower also deserves a mention as Linda - the young woman caught in the crossfire of this class struggle. The supporting cast are also excellent playing multiple roles and conveying much needed comic relief in this modern day Greek tragedy.
Russell's characters are timeless and in this time of austerity, their plights are incredibly relevant and recognisable. The classic songs "Tell Me It's Not True", "Easy Terms" and "Bright New Day" still have the power to make a grown man cry and they are delivered deftly by these terrific performers.
21 years later and it may look a little ragged around the edges, but as the standing ovation on the night I attended proves, Blood Brothers is here to stay a little while longer.