March 17th, 2012 at 9:27 am
Here’s what you need to know about The All New Original Tribute To The Blues Brothers, which took the stage before a rapt, three-quarters full Walton Arts Center on Friday (March 16) night: At one point, Elwood and Jake (those are the brothers) dressed up in bee costumes and Jake slid around on the floor.
Then there were the voices, and the backup vocalists and the band and, well, a lot of activities, all delivered with energy.
Walton Art Center crowds are often generous with their applause and enthusiasm. I don’t fault local audiences for the volume of their cheers or the durations of the multiple standing ovations they routinely deliver; It’s just a fact of life in this part of the country.
Yet, among the many shows I’ve watched in that hall, few rivaled the dance-happy attitude of the Blues Brothers show. After a tepid start (such as with the Otis Redding track “Can’t Turn You Loose”), the brothers got cooking with a one-two punch of crowd pleasers, namely “Rawhide” and “Gimme Some Loving,” both of which come from the
soundtrack to “The Blues Brothers,” the 1980 movie the touring show draws its inspiration from.
The tribute show is a plotless vehicle for the various songs of the Blues Brothers catalog – essentially, old blues standards. In the movie version, those songs were delivered by Dan Akroyd (Elwood Blues) an John Belushi (Jake Blues). In the touring tribute, the duties are handled ably by Brad Henshaw (Jake) and Daniel Fletcher (Elwood).
Both mimic well the actions and awkwardness of their movie counterparts, right down to the manic dance moves and black hat, sunglasses and skinny tie likenesses of the originals.
While the movie strings together a story line that explores Jake’s release from prison and the brothers’ attempt to reassemble a band, the stage show has no such direction, though it hints at such elements.
Backing musicians often flanked the brothers, sometimes dressed in police uniforms. Similarly, a screen drops down at one point during the production, mimicking the scene in the movie where the band plays an impromptu gig at Bob’s Country Bunker and gets beer bottles thrown at them in the process. And, thankfully, a nun beats them briefly with a ruler.
Absent though they may be, the stage show did not need the movie elements. A recent review of an original Blues Brothers album I read online discusses that, despite Akroyd and Belushi’s limitations as actual, honest vocalists, they pulled it off because of sheer enthusiasm for the material.
The crowd’s demographic averaged 50 or so, but that didn’t stop the house from standing most of the night and dancing in earnest for at least half the show.
Highlights (and dance opportunities) were many, including a take on the Joe Cocker version of “With a Little Help from My Friends” and many of the movies’ finer moments, such as “Minnie the Moocher” and “Think,” originally performed by Aretha Franklin but handled in this instance by one of the Bluettes, the three-piece backing group that shimmied and swayed behind the brothers. The three Bluettes and the live backing band should be lauded for their efforts.
No, it wasn’t a perfect Blues Brothers retelling. But the costumes looked good, the band cared and so did Jake and Elwood. The movie Blues Brothers were on a mission from God to deliver such music (curiously, they never made mention of the divine intentions in the staged tribute), and, this similarly works in an effort to remember the blues, soul, and early rhythm and blues.
They might have been dressed like Hassidic diamond merchants. But the blues were delivered and the crowd was dancing. What more could you want?