It beggars belief that anyone would take such a well-loved cult classic as the Blues Brothers and strip out of it any edginess only to add in something weirdly reminiscent of pantomime, but this All New Original Tribute does just that. It’s a process that leaves the audience slightly off kilter, wanting to like it and yet being continually wrong-footed.
This is particularly hard on the performers, who bring great energy and commitment to the show, but too often find themselves at the mercy of Brad Henshaw’s will to panto., a drive that reaches its apex during the performance of Flip Flop and Fly when a screen containing the words is lowered, the audience is divided into three and exhorted to sing–along-a- Jake-and-Elwood. But this is all a nod at musical theatre; it didn’t come off for me, for there was insufficient story to make this a musical. It has to be more fully to be understood as a tribute band. It requires at least a passing knowledge of the film, without which the references to the nuns and the police are incomprehensible. That said, the musical numbers are extended to include songs such as Higher and Higher and Under the Boardwalk, the latter of which was surprisingly tenderly sung and represented a rare change in mood and tempo.
The Bluettes make a good fist of Aretha Franklin’s songs, taking it in turn to take centre stage and lead. They have great stage presence, and sing powerfully and well. Luke Jasztal after an unpromising beginning in which he is the Blues brothers’ fall guy in raincoat and superman undies, goes on to give a creditable rendition of Cab Calloway’s Minnie the Moocher, in which he is faithful to Calloway’s performance and yet brings to it a grace which is his own.
The band is great, belting out the favourites and providing some authentic feeling. Rufus Ruffell gives a spirited guitar solo, for which he doesn’t get quite the credit he deserves, since Henshaw comes back in before the audience can applaud. And this perhaps exemplifies what for me is wrong at the heart of the show. Henshaw doesn’t truly get the Blues. He is so keen to get a laugh that his part lacks the dark energy of John Belushi.
However the MK audience did eventually get to their feet and dance, and the old favourites like Gimme Some Loving, Sweet Home Chicago, Shake your Tail Feather, and Respect were performed with sufficient brio to make us forget the oddities of the evening and decide to enjoy it, after all.