By 1892 Henrik Ibsen was
an old man. He had just returned to his native Norway after nearly
three decades of voluntary exile during which he produced some
of his finest works. His career had taken off with magnificent
dramas such as Brand (1865) and Peer Gynt (1867),
dealing with the dilemmas of both the claims of the absolute and
the temptations of compromise. He then moved to plays dealing
with social reform, including one of the earliest and most shocking
feminist tracts, A Dolls House (1879). Ghosts
(1881) exposed social diseases of the day, strongly hinting
at venereal disease among them. An Enemy of the People
(1882) attacked political targets in its vocation of truth. Grand,
socially expansive, compelling plays all of them, with characters
caught between the enticements of the possible and the terrible
demands of the ideal.
-----But by 1892 Ibsen was old. The agonies he witnessed, and then translated to the stage, were more deeply personal. Perched at the top, he was now threatened by the young. He dreamed of a summer spent in Switzerland with a young temptress. The complex interweaving of guilt, ambition and fantasy produced perhaps the most autobiographical of his plays, The Master Builder.
-----The London premiere of The Master Builder was not well received in 1893. "Dull, mysterious, unchaste" reported the Daily Graphic. "[P]ointless, incoherent and absolutely silly" said the Evening News. I understand, although I have not read any of the contemporary London or Toronto reviews, that a century later the critics have become less harsh. I have even heard that some "rave." You will not find a rave here, however; only bewilderment.
-----An architect has risen to great influence in his senior years, but has it been his talent, blind luck, or a deal he made with the devils within? A younger architect on his staff shows great promise, but Master Builder knows that the success of the younger will destroy the elder. In a bid to keep the younger man in his employ, and under his influence, Master Builder makes a play for the younger mans fiancee. As a reminder of the sure fate that awaits the aging Master Builder, the younger mans dying father, similarly destroyed years earlier by the aggressive MB himself, pleads his sons case. This is interrupted by the unexpected arrival of a young woman who apparently MB had seduced ten years earlier and had at that time promised her, among other things, a castle of her own. She has come to collect. But was it real, or just a dream, a long-buried desire, that has now come back, with the help of trolls and conscience, to haunt him. Moping about is also MBs sullen wife, mourning still the disastrous fire that long ago destroyed their home, her silk dresses, her grandmothers laces, her curiously precious collection of nine dolls, and, oh yes, their infant twin sons.
-----The Mirvish team has brought the English production of The Master Builder to their Royal Alexandra Theatre in Toronto. With it, and in the title role, is Alan Bates, returning to a Canadian stage for the first time in 30 years (what was it about that three-decade exile?), and whose bio in the program is longer than Ibsens. He carries the role magnificently, engendering sympathy despite his intransigence and inevitable date with destiny.
-----Playing the relatively minor role of his wife, in a waste of great talent, is Gemma Jones, TVs The Duchess of Duke Street and cinemas matron in Sense and Sensibility. Its not a becoming role, despite her top billing, and one that she herself describes as "filling in the time."
-----The only fresh-air respite in the show is provided by the unknown newcomer playing the young temptress, Victoria Hamilton, fresh out of drama school and already considered one of Englands rising young stars. She is perky, fresh, winsome, young, idealisticand in direct contrast to the other characters.
-----The young architect is played by Richard Willis, his father by Lewis Jones, and his fiancee by Clare Swinburne. The family physician provides an occasional bright spot, as interpreted by John Normington. Peter Hall directs.
-----Tickets are $25 to $75, and are available by calling TicketKing at 1-800-461-3333. More information of the Royal Alex's season is also available from Stage Door.
Blood Brothers is back
and what a difference a Narrator makes.
-----I caught its pre-Broadway run at the Royal Alexandra Theatre in Toronto in 1993, and loved it, as did its New York audience and critics, who showered it with accolades and awards during its two-year run there. Petula Clark took the show to Londons West End, where it (without her) is still running, continuing to garner applause for its author, Willy Russell, who has been until now better known for the non-musicals Shirley Valentine and Educating Rita.
-----Blood Brothers is the story of twins separated at birth. Mrs Johnson, a working-class Liverpudlian mother of seven children, agrees to give one of twins she is expecting to her wealthy but barren employer, Mrs Lyons. The infant kept, Mickey Johnson, grows up in poverty while his twin, Eddie Lyons, enters a privileged life. Bound by fear of discovery, and superstition that should either of the boys learn he has a twin, both will die on that day, the mothers keep the exchange secret.
-----Completely unaware that they are brothers, Mickey and Eddie meet as seven-year-old children and form a bond of fraternal friendship that lasts until the day they die. It is that concluding tragic event in fact, that is the opening scene of the play, which then backtracks to recount their separate, and interwoven, lives of success and despair.
-----The current production was put together especially for Toronto by the Mirvish team again, and stars many of the performers who have been in these roles before, in Toronto, on tour, or in London. Auditions were held in London for the lead part of Mrs Johnston, and surprising everyone including the lucky starlet, Canadian country-western recording artist Amy Sky got the part. Its a role that requires strong singing, and not much acting, and as such it is handled admirably. When Amy sings, she commands. When Amy acts, you know its her first time.
-----Headlining the cast as half the title role is David Cassidy, forever identified as a Partridge kid, despite having spent the last several years in the role of Mickey, on Broadway, the American tour, and in London. He has it down pat, yet still fresh and exuberant, especially as the seven-year-old.
-----Back to the Royal Alex in the role he had in 1993 is Mark Hutchinson as Eddie. Mark took the role to Broadway, too, winning a Drama Desk Award for his performance there.
-----But the real surprise is the Narrator. I had forgotten the character even existed in the 1993 production (it was handled then by Warwick Evanswho?). But give a secondary role to a great star, and you get a great role, Michael Burgess, and a chilling memory.
-----While the play pushes the seat-barrier at nearly three hours (and could easily have been shortened by 20 minutes or so of childs play in the first act) and suffers from mind-numbing repetition of two (count em) musical themes that climb but dont quite peak, it still builds to a crushingly powerful climax and final song (Tell Me Its Not True) that snapped the opening night audience to their feet in generous and quick approval.
-----We joined them, and encourage you to do the same. Call TicketKing at 416-872-1212. Tickets, for a limited summer run, are $25 to $85. The Royal Alexandra is located on King Street West, in Toronto.
Do you have a review or opinion to share?
Speaking of which: Here's some of You talking back to StageDoor:
I saw the show on Saturday, June 8, and was completely amazed.
It was really very good, very entertaining.
David may not have originated the role of Mickey, but he defined
it! It's HIS role - no one else can do it the same justice.
Just to throw my hat in--I saw Blood Brothers the other
night, and I have to say, it's not worth the standing ovation
that the immediacy of the great finale always gets. Regardless
of how much I despise Michael Burgess onstage, half the play
is driven by this silly superstition that if the brothers discover
their bloodlines, they'll DIE. Just like that. The thing didn't
heat up until the second act, when the play turns to their actual
friendship, their shared relationship with Linda and the hatred
between the mothers. Of course, the whole play was a buildup
to this great double-death finale, but I wasn't the biggest fan
of the ending. More directly, David Cassidy utters the words
"I could have been you" before firing... there was
SO MUCH in there. Ditto for the fact that Linda would shoot Mickey
to protect Eddie! What an amazing, unexpected twist! And what
does the play do? Sing a Mirvishized "this sucks" and
end. The thing is, the final song gets the standing ovation--
it's that good. Sadly, the characters AND the plot take a backseat
to this one, tragic number. See what I mean?
I went to see Blood Brothers with my mom and sister
and I thought it was fantastic!!! It was so sad and touching!!
I LOVED IT!!! I would love to see it many more times!! Amy Sky,
Michael Burgess, David Cassidy, Mark Hutchinson,and Jan Gravenson
were all absolutely fantastic!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I met Michael Burgess
and he was very nice and I wish I could meet everyone else!!!
I just wanted to say that I think the Blood Brothers
production in Toronto at the Royal Alex was first class. All
of the performances were polished, and excellent. I was overwhelmed
by the voice of Amy Sky, which was so beautiful and powerful.
It was just incredible. The performance of Michael Burgess, Mark
Hutchinson, Jan Graveson, and David Cassidy were excellent, along
with the other cast members. The show was full of emotion. It
really touches your heart. Overall the show was very impressive,
yet simple. I loved it!!!!!
I saw Blood Brothers twice now. And I found Michael
Burgess to be absolutely BRILLIANT. His onstage presence was
powerful and his voice was incredible. He projected himself as
a gifted and truly talented performer, one that I hope to see
many times over. My hat goes off to Mr. Burgess
I am Blood Brothers most devoted fan in American. I
go to London 2-3 times peryear and have seen the musical since
its opening in West End. I have all the CD recordings and merchandise.
I love the show so much but find I constantly critique the actors.
I think the Narrator is best played by Carl Wayne. He is great.
Stephanie Lawrence is the best Mrs. Johnstone you will ever see.
She was magnificent. I could go on and on but I know you must
be busy. I will, again, be going to London in September and will,again,
wait in the quenue for my tickets and see my favorite show of
all time. I am so sorry I missed the Broadway version. But, it
could not compare to the London version I am sure. Thank you
so much and Willy Russell's interview on South Bank was WONDERFUL.
Traveled from Charlotte, NC, to Toronto to see Blood Brothers
Aug. 17 ... wonderful. Amy Skye's voice has matured nicely to
a stage voice ... and she wept during "Tell Me It's Not
So" and performances seem polished. One note: During the
Linda, Eddie and Mickey scene, where Eddie spits onto his shoulder
... all three actors lost their composure, which was hilarious,
but I have to wonder if it was a successful faux pas from an
earlier performance that was repeated deliberately ... nevertheless,
it made me laugh too! And it's one of the things that help a
production develop into a work of art in its course... Also,
performances still seem fresh and invigorating ... no small task
after long runs elsewhere. Special kudos to Peter Faulkner, Michael
Burgess, Mark Hutchinson and Samantha Hughes. And David Cassidy
seems to enjoy the role immensely, and plays one of the best
kids I've seen in a while! Very entertaining! Thanks for letting