Blood Brothers regularly fills theatres all over the country and is still going strong in the West End. With new shows such as Ghost and Flashdance failing to become anywhere near as celebrated as this, what has Willy Russell's show got that these newcomers would die for?
Emotional relevance is the answer judging by the audience reaction on the night I attended at Manchester's Opera House. Before the music even begins, ripples of anticipation can be heard in the guise of clapping and cheering. And all of this is not just reserved for Marti Pellow's narrator. It's the show itself that gets the crowd in a frenzy and they don't go home disappointed.
Russell's book is as relevant as it ever was - as we follow the tale of cleaner - Mrs Johnstone (Maureen Nolan) and her ever increasing brood. She's a good mother but is finding it increasingly difficult to make ends meet. Her boss Mrs Lyons (Tracey Spencer) suggests that Mrs J could give her one of her new born twins - lightening her burden and killing two birds with one stone as she cannot have children. Cue the narrator (Marti Pellow) to let the audience know that things are not going to run smoothly.
Very timely given the Euro Zone crisis and the ever increasing numbers of children that are living in poverty in the UK, Blood Brothers still manages to touch a nerve with audience. It's an honest musical without the smoke and mirrors that shows like Ghost reply on. Its simplistic set design and lack of reliance on video screens and pyrotechnics means that the narrative is the key.
Nolan is highly effective as Mrs J - as she grows throughout the show and by the end - has the audience in tears. She is in good voice - a little breathy at times but knows how deliver the likes of "Easy Terms" with the right level of emotion. Sean Jones is tremendous as Mickey. I have seen this actor playing the part countless times and he never goes through the emotions - always making the role seem fresh. His transition from happy go lucky child to doomed young man is mesmerising to watch.
Likewise Matthew Collyer's Eddie is as mutli-layered - as the young boy grows up to discover the truth. His parents have the money but the love he receives from the Johnstons far outweighs this. Collyer works well with Jones and they make a great double act. Kelly-Anne Gower conveys every teenage emotion as Linda - Mickey's girlfriend and has a brilliant sense of comic timing throughout. Spencer is also incredibly good as Mrs Lyons - a desperate woman on the edge.
Graham Martin is numerous roles is his reliable self having layed the roles before - but again - plays them as if doing so for the very first time. Only Pellow lets the side down as his accent is wobbly and he fails to convey the sense of menace that the narrator requires to make the show work.
The songs are as memorable and as poignant as you remember. "Tell Me It's Not True" still has the power to make a grown man cry. True, Blood Brothers is still too long at almost three hours. But the show still packs a mighty punch and I can see why it has shown all the young pretenders the door and remains in the West End, as it is a classic musical full of blood, sweat and tears.