Sometimes, theatre travels smoothly across the ocean; other times, less so. Willy Russell's 1983 British tuner, a moralistic parable on the evils of the British class system, played on Broadway 1993-95, but the property's most enduring popularity has been in London, where a long-running revival flourishes. An odd duck of a musical — blending camp, pulp-novel melodrama, and surprisingly few songs — Blood Brothers becomes even stranger when its British ambiance is all but obliterated. Director Bryan Rasmussen's production exists in a nebulous limbo, where the urban setting feels indistinct and linguistic cadences sound out of place. There are flashes of fine talent on stage and moments of slyly ironic humor. But overall this is a lumbering three hours of noncohesive dramaturgy.
The plot might have provided fodder for one of Ross Hunter's weepy Lana Turner film potboilers of the 1960s. Told in flashbacks, with the aid of a somber narrator (Gil Darnell), the story introduces us to poverty-stricken single mother Mrs. Johnstone (Pamela Taylor), struggling to raise seven children, with twins on the way. She reluctantly makes a deal, so that her wealthy childless employer Mrs. Lyons (Judy Norton) can take one of the yet-unborn babies and make everyone believe she is his natural mother. As fate would have it, the twin boys (Eduardo Enrikez as Mickey and Ryan Nealy as Eddie) meet as youngsters and form a lifelong bond. Meanwhile, an implicit curse and the pressures of the brothers' diverse social backgrounds ensure that tragedy is on the way.
Taylor does creditable work as the distraught working-class mom, and Norton offers delicious moments of villainy as the heartless fake mother. As the doomed brothers — growing from toddlers to young adults — Enrikez and Nealy deliver worthy portrayals, against the odds. The actors can't help that their scenes as children are ludicrously written and counterproductive to Russell's intended tone of escalating suspense. Music director Carson Schutze and a small combo pull respectable results from the undistinguished score. The production design is serviceable. The significance of Marilyn Monroe's metaphorical presence — in a projected image and annoyingly repeated song lyrics — remains the show's only genuine mystery.
Presented by Laura Coker at and in association with the Whitefire Theatre, 13500 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks. Oct. 18-Nov. 23. Fri.-Sat. 8 p.m., Sun. 3 p.m. (866) 811-4111. www.bloodbrothersla.com.