Torn Ticket II’s ‘Blood Brothers’ explores class, privilege

Master's candidate Angelle Antoun, who plays Linda in 'Blood Brothers,' and junior Zoe Maya Miller, who plays Mrs. Johnstone, participate in a dress rehearsal on Nov. 28. Courtesy Rachel Hartman

You might not have ever heard of Torn Ticket II’s upcoming musical, “Blood Brothers.” Director Jessica Pearson-Bleyer is excited to bring the West End classic to life at Tufts.

Blood Brothers” follows twins Eddie and Mickey’s lives after they’re separated at birth. Their mother, unable to care for both, gives one of the twins to an upper-class woman; therefore, Eddie grows up in privilege, while Mickey grows up in poverty. The show explores the difference in upbringing between the two brothers and how it affects each of them.

Pearson-Bleyer, a third-year doctoral candidate in the Department of Theatre, Dance, and Performance Studies, said that the show might not necessarily align with what we think of when we think of musicals. 

“It’s really not a Broadway musical in the sense that there’s not a huge chorus, there’s not a lot of kick lines and spangles,” she said.  “And I think for that reason, particularly in the ’80s, it didn’t do well on Broadway, and I think a lot of American audiences just don’t know the show.  But it’s continued to be done in England a lot of the time.”

Pearson-Bleyer added that beyond the obvious element of class and status, “Blood Brothers” addresses some very poignant issues.

“It talks about class, poverty and privilege. It also addresses some character struggle with mental health issues and navigating the mental health system, and having resources and not having resources. It also deals with something I don’t think you see a lot. The way that people who are close to you react to when you’re going on a mental health journey,” Pearson-Bleyer said. “It also talks a lot about gun violence and the way that so many children are raised with this glamorized ideal of guns, and how guns are fun, and guns are cool and how that results in some really deadly consequences in adulthood.”

While the musical is set in England, Pearson-Bleyer chose not to use British accents in order to make these themes more universally applicable.

There’s this distancing that happens when you see a bunch of people who are speaking differently,” she said. “I wanted it to be really clear to the audience that this is a story that could be set anywhere [and] that just because it’s England, it doesn’t mean that we don’t have these exact same issues with poverty, with class, with gun violence, with mental health. All of those things are so American.”

Pearson-Bleyer has wanted to direct this show for years. She first heard about “Blood Brothers” from her high school drama teacher. Ever since then, the show has been in the back of her mind.

“Then I realized it’s kind of the perfect musical for the way Torn Ticket does stuff because it does have this focus on social issues, which I think are really relevant. It’s a space for a smaller cast but requires some really heavy acting and some really great voices, which, after being the assistant director for ‘Assassins’ last year, I saw that they really had the pool of talent here to handle the show,” she said. “And it’s been like a check off the bucket list to get to direct this show. It’s one of my favorites.”

Pearson-Bleyer has been working with a small cast of nine actors since September for the production. She said that the actors have attacked the multitude of different tones and themes in the show with consistent energy.

One of my favorite things about the show is that it starts really fun, and then it kind of transitions into dealing with some of the heavier issues,” Pearson-Bleyer said.  “It’s been so great to work with a cast that is equally present and willing and excited to do the really fun big numbers but also has the capacity to take it down and really address the more difficult issues and have those conversations that you need to have in a rehearsal room.  And it’s been just a really wonderful experience getting to work together with this group of artists.”

“Blood Brothers” will be showing in Balch Arena Theater on Thursday and Friday at 8 p.m. and on Saturday at 7 p.m. Tickets are free and can be purchased either at the Aidekman Box Office or online on the Department of Theatre, Dance, and Performance Studies’ website.