I often come to TV shows late, but then I hit ’em hard. I started the first season of Orphan Black about a week before the second season premiered, and was finished by the day after the premiere, upon which I immediately began the current season. (Okay, not that impressive; it was only ten episodes. Still.) The clone saga quickly drew me in, and Tatiana Maslany’s ability to play a large number of completely different women who just happen to have the same genotype is truly extraordinary.
With all the intrigue, sinister mysteries, both scientific and religious extremists, and death, it’s easy to see how the show can be rather dark overall, so it’s nice to get some nice comedic moments now and then. Of course, being Orphan Black, the humor is usually never “hahaha omg so funny” but more like “lolwut”. A golden example of this has been the Season 2 subplot that involves Alison doing the suburban community musical theatre project. Now, community theatre in general can be used for comedic effect (“actors are so weird LOL”), but when you get jaunty melodies about cleaning up blood splatter, it lands squarely in the middle of Orphan Black’s sardonic, tongue-in-cheek style of humor. It was such a perfect fit that I thought the writers had just written a song or two for story purposes, but no: it turns out they were selections from a very real musical named Blood Ties! Let’s find out more after the jump!
In the Season 2 premiere when they showed the first scenes at rehearsal and there were just five people in the cast, I thought the musical was too small to be real. Then I thought it was too good to be true when I heard utterly glorious lyrics such as these:
And we will wipe, wipe, wipe away the plasma,
Scrub off every stain.
Since I cannot control my asthma,
I’ll stand by to entertain!
Not only were the words bizarrely timely for the show (Alison had recently been involved in a minor incident of negligent homicide, standing by and letting a preventable death happen instead of stopping it), but they were also works of sheer lyrical genius. Thankfully, they weren’t just from a small sidebar in the writers’ minds; rather, they were excerpts from a musical that actually is totally about cleaning up blood splatter.
A brief synopsis from the musical’s official webpage explains:
Sheila’s uncle shoots himself in his bathroom on the eve of her wedding, and when her three best friends arrive in town for her bachelorette party they are instead charged with the task of helping her clean up the considerable mess left behind. But in the process of mopping up blood and brains, disturbing details are uncovered, and it becomes clear that Sheila isn’t telling the whole truth.
In the grand tradition of all comedic theatre, all is not what it seems, secrets and deception abound, and hijinks ensue (as hijinks are wont to do); nevertheless, there are clearly also more serious sides to the characters and their stories and conflicts that balance out the comedy to make for a truly riveting show. Check out this trailer below! Though it is unfortunately brief, I think it does a good job of showing the wide range of emotions involved in the show, as well as showcasing the beautifully dense and rich harmonies of the vocal score. (You can hear a few more tidbits of the score on the other two videos on the creators’ YouTube channel, which is where I found this.)
The show is a chamber musical, to be performed in an intimate space with a small cast of exactly five, as seen on screen (although it seems to be that the typical casting calls for three men and two women, rather than three women and two men as portrayed on Orphan Black). The show is written by the up-and-coming team of two Canadian women, Johnson and Johnston. Prior to appearing on Orphan Black, the show had been workshopped in its native Canada before appearing last summer in the famous Edinburgh Fringe Festival, the world’s largest arts festival, where many new and more experimental works get a chance to test the waters.
So how did it come to grace the screens of everyone’s favorite clone drama? While a musical was always intended for part of Alison’s Season 2 storyline, original plans were actually for said musical to be Grease. When this proved too expensive to be feasible, the creators scrambled to come up with an alternative. They even toyed with the possibility of writing one expressly for the show, until some major serendipity took place: a production assistant on the show, MacKenzie Donaldson, had previous been involved with producing Blood Ties and thus it was brought to the attention of the creators. The rest, as they say, is history.
Bonus points of awesome? Re-watch those scenes of rehearsal from the first few episodes of Season 2, my friends: Alison is obviously played by Tatiana Maslany, and actress Terra Hazelton portrays character Sarah Stubbs (and does an absolutely fantastic job doing so), but according to this interview, the men in the cast are actually from previous casts of Blood Ties, and the fabulous creators themselves, Anika Johnson and Barbara Johnston, are there too! (Johnson is the rehearsal pianist, and Johnston is the third woman on stage.) So, so cool that they actually made appearances themselves. Holla, ladies!
In short, I am super pumped about Blood Ties, despite only seeing what I guess would amount to less than ten minutes of material, between Orphan Black and YouTube. Even this brief introduction was enough to get me hooked, and I cannot wait for an opportunity to get to see it live. As someone who often finds himself the rehearsal pianist for musical theatre productions, I would love to get my hands on some sheet music at some point, and I would be thrilled to one day be able to play for a production of this one-of-a-kind show (hint: hire me, J&J!). So dear readers, let me know your thoughts below. Did you enjoy the Blood Ties scenes on Orphan Black, and are you all as excited as I am?