Denise starred in Blood Brothers for more than four consecutive years. She originally was offered the starring role in London's West End. Her Sister Bernie had toured in the production and appeared briefly in the West End. During that National Tour of the show she starred at the Liverpool Empire. Producers of the Soap Opera Brookside saw the show and were impressed with Bernie. They quickly snapped her up for the TV soap. Bill Kenwright, the show's producers allowed Bernie to get out of her contract early without penalty. She had suggested her Sisters as replacements and Linda was offered the touring role Denise quickly filled the gap in the West End. In Denise's case a CD was dispatched to Kenwright and she was invited to sing for the producers. With just nine days rehearsal Denise opened in the show. She was quoted at the time "I was so petrified before I went on I almost missed my cue. Because I was in the loo. But once I started singing all the ines fell into place." Denise played the lead role at London's Phoenix Theatre for eight months before transferring to the touring production. This suited her as it meant she was able to visit more towns up and down the UK and she enjoyed the audiences better. She said of the tour;
"The West End is very prestigious, of course, and it carries great kudos. But much of the audience is made up of foreign visitors who have little understanding of a play set in the Eighties in Liverpool. The audiences on the tour were totally different. They got it! Partucularly in the North. At the end of every show they jumped to their feet. You could see their reactions straight away. As an artist if was totally gratifying. I loved my time in the show. It was very demanding on me vocally, but the cast and crew were amazing. I have never met people so dedicated and professional. When my time came to leave the show, naturally I was sad, but I knew it was the right time to go. I have never looked back on anything, but I do have the fondest memories of my time with the show. I am also thrilled with the fact that I did play in the West End and made it to the Guinness Book Of World Records. Our record was 'Most Siblings (four) who have appeared in the same professional production.' That is something I treasure. I still have the certificate framed in my hallway"
Denise first appeared in the show in 1998. The show is a musical with book, lyrics and music by Willy Russell. The story is a contemporary nature versus nurture plot, revolving around fraternal twins who were separated at birth. The twins' different backgrounds take them to opposite ends of the social spectrum, one becoming a councillor and the other unemployed and in prison. They both fall in love with the same girl, causing a tear in their friendship and leading to the tragic death of both brothers.
Originally developed as a school play, Blood Brothers debuted in Liverpool before Russell transferred it to West End for a short run in 1983. The musical won the Laurence Olivier Award for Best New Musical and went on to a year-long national tour before returning for a revival in the West End in 1988 where it stayed at the Albery Theatre for 3 years, transferring to the Phoenix Theatre in 1991. The revival ran for more than 24 years in the West End, and played more than 10,000 performances, becoming the third longest-running musical production in West End history. It finally closed in November 2012. The musical has been produced with success on tour, on Broadway and elsewhere, and it has developed a cult following.
Blood Brothers had a year-long national tour beginning in 1987, produced by Bill Kenwright (and directed by Kenwright and Bob Tomson), starring Kiki Dee as Mrs Johnstone, Warwick Evans as the Narrator, Con O'Neill as Mickey and Robert Locke as Eddie, leading to a revival at the Albery Theatre, directed by Tomson, with the same cast. O'Neill won an Olivier Award for his performance, and Dee was nominated. It opened on 28 July 1988 and moved out of that theatre on 16 November 1991. The musical transferred to the Phoenix Theatre on 21 November 1991, where it closed on 10 November 2012. Due to close on 27 October, its run was extended by 2 weeks with returning favourites in the closing cast, including Lyn Paul, original narrator Warwick Evans, Sean Jones as Micky, Michael Hutchinson as Eddie and Jan Graveson as Linda.
The central role of Mrs. Johnstone has been played in various productions by, among others, Kiki Dee, Angela Richards, Barbara Dickson, Stephanie Lawrence, Clodagh Rodgers, Lyn Paul, Siobhan McCarthy, four of the Nolan sisters (Linda, Bernie, Denise and Maureen), Melanie Chisholm (making her West End debut and receiving an Olivier nomination in 2009), Marti Webb, Niki Evans, Amy Robbins, Natasha Hamilton, Helen Reddy, Rebecca Storm, Carole King, Petula Clark and the late Stephanie Lawrence. Mickey has been played by Con O'Neill, Stephen McGann, Paul Crosby, Antony Costa, Stefan Dennis and David Cassidy, among others. Notable actors to play Eddie include Hutchinson and Shaun Cassidy. Narrators include Evans, Carl Wayne, David Soul and Marti Pellow. Alex Harlan played the small role of the postman in more than 4,000 performances. The musical has toured in the UK several times, the first beginning in August 1995, when it opened at the Birmingham Hippodrome with Helen Reddy as Mrs Johnstone. Other tours included ones in 2002-2006 with Denise Nolan, 2007 With Linda Nolan, 2008 and 2010, with Marti Webb (in 2008) and Niki Evans (in 2010/2011) as Mrs. Johnstone. The 2012 tour featured Maureen Nolan as Mrs Johnstone. Warwick Evans reprised the role of Narrator and Sean Jones played Mickey; Warwick and Jones were both invited back to play the last two weeks of the West End run at the Phoenix. The first Australian production, in 1988, included Russell Crowe in the role of Mickey and Christina Amphlett as Mrs Johnstone.
A new production was presented at Hayes Theatre in Sydney in February 2015. Produced by Enda Markey with direction by Andrew Pole and musical direction by Michael Tyack, the production will star Helen Dallimore as Mrs Johnstone, Michael Cormick as the Narrator, Bobby Fox as Mickey and Blake Bowden as Edward. The Broadway production opened on 25 April 1993 at the Music Box Theatre and closed on 30 April 1995 after 840 performances. It was co-directed by Tomson and Kenwright. Several of the British actors made their Broadway debuts, including Lawrence as Mrs. Johnstone, O'Neill as Mickey, Graveson as Linda, Hutchinson as Eddie and Evans as the narrator. Barbara Walsh was Mrs Lyons, and Kerry Butler made her Broadway debut in the ensemble. To boost box office sales during the run, Kenwright persuaded Petula Clark to make her Broadway debut, replacing Lawrence as Mrs. Johnstone, with David and Shaun Cassidy as her sons. The casting of the Cassidy half-brothers as the twins generated much publicity. The musical received Tony Award nominations for best musical, best book and best direction, and Lawrence (best actress), O'Neill (best actor) and Graveson (best featured actress) were all nominated for their performances in the original Broadway cast Following Clark's portrayal, Mrs. Johnstone was played by other 1970s pop singers, with King and Reddy later playing the role on Broadway. Petula Clark and David Cassidy also starred in the US national tour from 1994–95. Clark and the Cassidys also recorded the international cast album, with Willy Russell as the Narrator. Many of the cast members were also in the Canadian run, which starred David Cassidy, Michael Burgess and Canadian singer-songwriter Amy Sky