‘We’re getting the band back together!’ One of my favorite quotes from the “Blues Brothers” movie is the key to understanding this show’s premise. It’s all about the band not the movie! Charles Aerts Theatre Productions and EJB Entertainment present the United States premiere of “THE ALL NEW ORIGINAL TRIBUTE TO THE BLUES BROTHERS.” Jake and Elwood Blues were characters created on a 1978 Saturday Night Live sketch. The Blues Brothers go ‘on a mission from God’ to revive a blues and soul band. The successful television skit turned blockbuster movie starred the legendary talents of the late John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd. “THE ALL NEW ORIGINAL TRIBUTE TO THE BLUES BROTHERS” debuted in 1991 in England. The show went from seaside pub to London’s West End and became a smashing sensation. It’s not a “Blues Brothers” musical. It’s a musical revue sung by the Blues Brothers. The problem is the “Blues Brothers” movie and Chicago Blues originated here. And the Windy City is a little snobbish to outsiders’ interpretations of either.
READ ON OR LISTEN to Audio Podcast at ITUNES Chicago Theatre Reviews for Week of July 8th Facilitated by Joshua Volkers with Katy Walsh.
Elwood: It’s 106 miles to Chicago, we got a full tanks of gas, half a pack of cigarettes, it’s dark and we’re wearing sunglasses.
Jake: Hit it.
Actually, London is a lot farther from Chicago! This show came from across the pond to sing the Blues. It’s easy to see how this high-energy show would captivate the U.K. It’s so those-crazy-Americans- in- their- skinny- ties-white-socks- black- hats-and-dark- sunglasses! Brad Henshaw (Jake) and Daniel Fletcher (Elwood) certainly entertain in their cart-wheeling crooning! Although they physically resemble the Belushi-Aykroyd team, something is missing. From the first few songs, the vibe is flat. Despite the lively stage renditions of “Everybody Needs Somebody” and “Hey Bartender,” the audience is motionless. No head nodding. No shoulder swaying. There is a mass detachment from the actual performance. Despite the spirited music, nobody is shaking a tail feather. It feels like we are all gathered in someone’s living room to watch a concert on a big-screen TV. Not any “someone,” it’s the ornate home of the Auditorium Theatre. The majestic, plush theatre might be a contributing factor to the Brits’ Blues blues! The huge venue loses the intimate intention of the Blues. When the auditorium turns up the house lights for audience participation, it has the opposite effect. It’s as if someone’s mom walked into the living room, flipped on the switch to monitor the television watching. Awkward! It just reinforces that this show would play better at Kingston Mines or House of Blues.
The second act is definitely more engaging… for those returning! Being surrounded by additional empty seats, COULD be a buzz killer. But there is some unspoken pact that occurred during intermission, Chicago collectively takes the stick out of their ass. Sure, this might not be our version of the Blues but look how hard these Brits are trying! An interactive “Flip, Flop and Fly” gets the audience fluttering and singing. And of course, “Sweet Home Chicago”, our proud city anthem, is sung in unison with our international visitors. I’m entranced by a particular beautiful rendition of “Under the Boardwalk.” The song selection is robust and includes a program-announced encore line-up! No element of surprise or spontaneity there but it’s a dynamic conclusion.
Donald ‘Duck’ Dunn: We had a band powerful enough to turn goat piss into gasoline.
So, it’s not the Belushi-Aykroyd goat-piss-into-gasoline-miracle. “THE ALL NEW ORIGINAL TRIBUTE TO THE BLUES BROTHERS” is an enthusiastic salute to the fun-loving antics of Jake and Elwood! For me, it made me nostalgic for the ghosts of SNL past. John, I hope you, Gilda, Phil and Chris are perfecting a divine production that I can wait to see.
Fans of the original Belushi-Aykroyd classic film describe it with Jenny: ‘sadly production blues’ and Dale: ‘not what I expected.’
Running Time: Two hours and thirty minutes includes an intermission
At Auditorium Theatre, 50 E. Congress Parkway
Directed by Brad Henshaw
Musical directed by Steve Parry
Wednesdays, Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays at 7:30pm
Saturdays and Sundays at 2pm
Thru July 24th