Rebecca Storm is older, wiser and perfect for the part of Mrs Johnstone in Blood Brothers

Rebecca Storm is back in Blood Brothers, the show which made her famous, says Jo Kerrigan.

WHEN Blood Brothers opens in Dublin at the end of this month, it will add a jewel to its diadem of awards and accolades. That jewel is Rebecca Storm, recreating the role she made famous in 1983. She plays the lead, Mrs Johnstone, a mother torn apart by love and loss, and hardship, yet always determined and strong.

Storm can reprise the role after so many years because she was too young in 1983; she is now the right age for the feisty, working class Liverpudlian mum in Willy Russell’s play.

“I hadn’t an idea what I was auditioning for,” remembers Storm. “I just saw the advert, saying they wanted someone aged 24-40, something like that, for a new musical. I had never auditioned for a musical before and just thought I’d give it a shot.” She was about to be rejected on age grounds; but Russell saw her stage presence, heard her voice, and was captivated. Wardrobe and make-up would sort out the ageing, he said firmly. And Storm was in.

“Mind you, I had no idea how big a part it was. I was simply terrified. We were rehearsing in Nottingham for six weeks and every single day, at lunchtime, I would go out by myself with the script to work and work and work. I learned the entire play by heart,” she says.

Blood Brothers tells the moving story of twin boys separated at birth, reunited by a twist of fate and a mother’s haunting secret. The memorable score includes ‘A Bright New Day’, ‘Marilyn Monroe’ and the emotionally charged closer ‘Tell Me It’s Not True’. The Corsican Brothers, a novella by Alexander Dumas, and later a hugely popular melodrama by Dion Boucicault, is an influence, except the Corsican twins always knew their identity, whereas ignorance leads to the tragedy in Blood Brothers.

Gaining rave reviews for Mrs Johnstone, Storm was catapulted into the world of musical theatre, playing some of the most demanding roles written for leading ladies: Eva Peron in Evita, Fantine in Les Miserables, Grizabella in Cats, Florence in Chess, Rose in Aspects of Love, plus Edith Piaf, Joan of Arc, and more. Hollywood Ladies, a tribute to stars of the silver screen which Storm devised in 1992, won best musical review; she appears regularly on TV, has been invited to sing for the British royal family and at a Norwegian coronation; tours worldwide; has released numerous albums. Her latest album, The Essential Rebecca Storm, was recorded live at the Bord Gáis Theatre in Dublin during a recent sell-out concert.

Described by the esteemed composer Harry Rabinowitz as “the girl with the voice of a sexy angel”, Storm’s capacity to reach out to her audience, make them experience every twist, every emotion of what she is feeling during a song, earns new fans with every performance.

Since that first night in Blood Brothers, she hasn’t stopped in a meteoric rise to the top of her profession.

Being that much older, says Storm, will give greater depth to the characterisation of Mrs. Johnstone. “I feel so much more now than I ever did, about the tragedy, the pain of a mother’s love.” It was the same with Les Miserables, she says. “That was a lot of hard work, when I sang it back in 1998, but when I sing that wonderful number, ‘I Have a Dream’, now it means so much more to me and the audience gets that, too. You do feel more with maturity. You have only to look at the news and the tragedies that happen everywhere, and they touch you as they didn’t do when you were young.”

Storm has played Mrs. Johnstone many times but it has never grown wearisome for her. “I’m never ever bored or tired. It’s always fresh, like the first performance, when you begin that story that will end in tragedy. Every time I’ve done it, I’ve found something new. It might be a tiny aspect, a small point, but I know it’s there and I will have found it.”

It’s three years since she last stepped into those familiar shoes, and Storm is looking forward to the Bord Gais opening.

“To do it for two weeks is lovely now. I wouldn’t want to go on long tours again. It’s quite exhausting at the end of the show, as you’re crying and totally devastated.

“I’m not fit to talk to anyone for quite a while after the final curtain each night. But Blood Brothers has never lost its appeal with theatre audiences anywhere. It’s so relevant. I’m so proud to have been part of it. And it’s not a show just for women. Men love it, too. It’s such a darn good story,” Storm says.

Obviously, stepping back into the shoes of Mrs Johnstone, the singer has had plenty rehearsals, but the process was made easier by the fact that all the scenes were “engraved in my heart”.

After so long in the business, does the 56-year-old ever consider retiring? “I’m not going to stop. I love to sing, and to perform. I don’t tour as much as I used to, but I’m starting a new venture soon.

“I will be launching my own teaching school, doing masterclasses, and we have a recording studio at home, where we will teach recording techniques as well, so students can learn all the practical stuff.”

And, doubtless, she will share her unequalled experience of the musical theatre world, too? “Yes, I can answer their career questions as well, if they ask them — although they probably wouldn’t want the answers to some of them,” she says.

Blood Brothers, Bord Gais Energy Theatre, Dublin, September 29 to October 10.

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