Jake and Elwood still rock on

The All New Original Tribute to The Blues Brothers

Birmingham Hippodrome

****

THE Blues Brothers have been around since 1977 and, on opening night at least for the first act, it was starting to show.

The classy seven piece band was on song, the Bluettes backing singers were bopping in harmony and Jake and Elwood were all non-stop action – but somehow it was all a bit flat, a bit tired. The spark was missing. It was all a bit going through the motions.

Luckily the half time oranges did the trick though and Jake and Elwood cranked up the show and the audience into what we have come to expect of a Blues Brothers tribute show.

Comedians Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi first featured the Blues Brothers on American TV show Saturday Night Live in 1978 but had used the act as a warm up for the show for a year prior to that.

A film came in 1980 and  there were tours and concerts but in 1983, just six years after Jake and Elwood had been born Belushi was dead – ironically it was a rockers demise  from heroin and cocaine poisoning in a Hollywood hotel.

Not a huge box office success the first time around the film became a cult classic and since then enough tribute acts and shows have sprung up to populate a small country with people in pork pie hats, black ties, shades, crumpled black suits and white socks.

This show is about the brothers but even manages a couple of songs that predates them. Before Jake and Elwood evolved Aykroyd and Belushi had sung blues together in a section of the TV show where members of the Saturday Night team appeared singing a song dressed as bees. Aykroyd and Belushi did Muddy Waters' I'm a King Bee.

It apparently got rapturous applause back in 1976 but how things have changed. It is resurrected in this show and, to be honest, the bee suits do not really work and the second song in the stripe costunes,  Rubber Biscuits,  a Chips number from 1956, sung by Elwood, is the weakest in the show. How that song is still being performed by anyone  beats me.

For the rest Brad Henshaw, who is also the director, as  Jake and Daniel Fletcher as Elwood make a more than decent fist of  the brothers in a lively first half which is lifted by the trio of Bluettes, Jocasta Almgill, Alexus Ruth and Victoria Goddard, in numbers such as Shake a Tail Feather and Respect.

Come the second half though and the that undefinable spark is back. This isn't just a rhythm and blues concert any more, this is the Blues Brothers  with Jake dragging everyone to their feet for Flip, Flop Fly – with actions and song sheet.

Everybody needs somebody - Elwood, Daniel Fletcher (left) , and Jake, Brad Henshaw, need you . . . and you  . . . and you . . .

The Bluettes give us Aretha Franklin's Think while there are two quieter moments with Elwood singing that Drifters' classic Under the Boardwalk backed by Jake and the Bluettes in what was a beautiful version and perhaps most poignant of all Henshaw as Jake singing Randy Newman's Guilty.

Belushi found the song about drinking, drugs and letting people down hard to sing in concert – too close to home and it always moved him and audeinces. Henshw does the song and Belushi justice.

From that point on though it is party time for Soul Man, Sweet Home Chicago, Jailhouse Rack, a medley and a reprise of the opener and Blues Brothers favourite Everybody.

A mention as well for Luke Jasztal who provides a decent Cab Calloway in Minnie the Moocher .

By the end everyone was on their feet dancing and clapping and that is what the Blues Brothers is all about. The cast work hard and it is only fair to expect the audience to do the same. To 26-03-11.

Roger Clarke

At 8.30 in Saturday's performance the Hippodrome will turn out all non-essential lights outside the theatre to support WWF's Earth Hour when a global switch off will dim the world's skyline to show there is only one earth and we all need to protect and preserve it.

 

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