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The Cassidys Hit It Off on Broadway : Theater: Ticket sales are up since former teen heartthrobs Shaun and David Cassidy assumed leading roles in 'Blood Brothers.'

September 03, 1993|BLAKE GREEN | NEWSDAY

NEW YORK — The shape of the faces is similar, the eyes, all four of them, are blue. But not much else about the Cassidy half-brothers, David and Shaun, seems cut from the same cloth: David's a brunette down to his dark outfit, Shaun's a dirty blond in blue denim. David's short, wiry and wary; Shaun's tall, mellow, looks younger--which he is, by nine years.

But, what the heck? Other actors who have played the ill-fated Johnstone twins in the musical "Blood Brothers," both on Broadway and in the long-running London production, have never been even cousins. The plot has the twins separated at birth and raised in environments that are poles apart. David's character has had a hard life, Shaun's been in the lap of luxury.

The Broadway producers who hired them to join the cast this summer reportedly checked to see if the real brothers got along. They do; they even hug when they meet after less than a day's separation.

What is the same about David and Shaun Cassidy is that, aside from having the same father, the late actor Jack Cassidy, both were in popular television series in the '70s: David in "The Partridge Family," Shaun in "The Hardy Boys." And, more to the point, both had meteoric careers as pop-singing heartthrobs for the teeny-bopper set.

The other night, outside the stage door of the Music Box Theater where "Blood Brothers" has been playing since late April, Martha Elson of Omaha, "in my early 30s," was one of a dozen or so, mostly women, hovering for a glimpse of the brothers, their autographs on a playbill. Elson was on David's trail. "He's so-o-o cute," she sighed, as if 18 years had suddenly dropped from the calendar.

The gold and platinum records and screaming teen-age fans were a long time ago--"half my life ago," the 43-year-old David points out--but somebody still cares. Attendance is up at performances since the Cassidys (and Petula Clark, who plays their birth mother) joined the cast mid-August. Advance sales show a marked increase, according to the show's publicist. It hasn't hurt that, with great fanfare, cable's "Nick at Night" began nightly reruns of "The Partridge Family" in July.

David, whose career as a singing teen idol began in and grew out of that series, still performs regularly, often his own music, which he also writes for others. Having both rejected and been defensive about his past, he now looks upon "The Partridge Family" as a positive experience--"How else would I have 5 million people coming up to me all the time?"--and even includes old '70s hits like "I Think I Love You" in his programs.

Dubbed the "squeaky-clean teen dream" by Time magazine in 1978, Shaun acted and sang independent of each other. In recent years he has been a writer and producer for Universal where he's developed television series and movies-of-the-week, including 1991's "Strays" and just recently the TV sequel to "Midnight Run," set to air in the spring. It's Universal that owns the rights to "The Hardy Boys," and, he jokes, "they're constantly threatening to release it."

"Blood Brothers" is not only the first musical in which the Cassidys have appeared together, but it's also the first time they've sung together--even around the family piano.

"We didn't grow up in the same house or at the same time," David points out. His mother is Evelyn Ward, Shaun's is Shirley Jones--who, as any "Partridge Family" fan recalls, played David's mother in the series. (David Cassidy and Shirley Jones were the only cast members who actually sang on the wildly successful "family" albums.)

"We've discovered we have an interesting blend, he's a baritone," David says, "I'm a tenor. It fits well."

Before a recent performance, the Cassidys and David's wife, songwriter Sue Shifrin, were in David's dressing room at the theater. It's larger than Shaun's, but that comes with the larger role in "Blood Brothers." The brothers deny any sibling rivalry either now or back when Shaun shot to fame just as David's star was descending. "We don't have a tradition of picking on each other," Shaun says.

It was David whom producers approached about joining the cast when, by Equity provisos, the British actors who opened with the show had to leave. Last on Broadway in "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat" in the early '80s, David says, "I'd been waiting to get a part this good for a long time. You know when you're inherently right for a character." He plays Mickey, the brother who's raised in a Liverpool slum by a single mother (Clark) forced to give away his twin.

And it was David's idea for Shaun to play his brother. "I was on deadline for a script at Universal," Shaun says, "and I told him I couldn't. He said, 'Just read it,' and I was knocked out. I saw the dynamics of what David and I, two real brothers with a relationship and history of our own, would carry across to the audience."

By the time he accepted the role, he had only eight days to learn the lines for his Broadway debut. He'd never have been able to master the Liverpudlian dialect, he says, but fortunately Eddie, his character, is raised by a wealthy family and "I'd done an upper-crust British accent before in a play."

"We've had opportunities to work together before but either we weren't interested or available," Shaun says. The offers "were generally exploitative in nature," David says.

The brothers were right for this, they insist, perhaps influenced by the superstitious theme of the musical. "We were both on other paths and were plucked off," Shaun says. He points to a sign: "I associate my New York experience with our dad and he was very successful on Broadway. He won a Tony for 'She Loves Me.' "

When he arrived in the city several weeks ago, Shaun opened a newspaper and discovered ads for "Blood Brothers" and the revival of "She Loves Me" running next to each other.

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