Bad news has hit the Arts Theatre – Puss in Boots is cancelled. Whilst pantomime lovers may be wallowing in tears, The Music of the Blues Brothers - A Tribute are striving to keep up morale in this troubled venue. The show is a plotless presentation of two recently escaped convicts; Jake and Elwood, as they boast their repertoire of classic rock and roll, soul and blues numbers all accompanied by a live band.
Mark Pearce and Roger Thomson do an amiable job as the brothers. Their singing is on the money, however they’re unlikely to win ‘Strictly’ with some of their football-training style dance moves. The ensemble bombard us with energetic bouncing, swish head turns and oozing charisma. They work tirelessly to infect the audience with fun, but it only succeeds as far as our feet as we toe tap along to the tunes.
However, Ezra Tafari excels with his soaring voice, Michael Jackson footwork and plethora of costume changes – his relentless gospel number is sublime. We’re also treated to a couple of flawless female solos by Helen Hart and Clare Maynard who balance passionate storytelling with stunning vocal ability. The band deserve accolades too as they pump out the songs with booming bass and the odd ripping solo on guitar and brass. However, they do less well on the scripted banter. The “we’re not being paid” gag is cringingly overused as an attempt to involve them in the action.
The cast desperately try to electrify us and as a last resort Roger Thomson starts hugging the front row of punters. To quote an audience member in the interval: “It’s a show that needs joining in - but we can’t.” We’d lap these guys up at a party. They would make a phenomenal wedding band. But here their enthused efforts sadly fall into an ‘average West End show’ bracket.
However, the party mood sneaks in during the closing minutes once everyone’s sufficiently inebriated and they’re up in the aisles twisting and mashing potato. (I did still spot a few folk fleeing in fear as oppose to getting on down.)
One final point to make about Patrick Wilde’s endeavouring production is about the undercurrents of the X Factor and pop culture bitterness which slip into the dialogue. To be honest, I’m not a huge fan myself, but if one wants to convey a political agenda to the masses, I certainly wouldn’t choose The Music of the Blues Brothers as a vehicle for it.
This show is a harmless night out. It fails to wow its audience, but if you submit to the show’s exuberant energy, I guarantee you won’t leave feeling blue.
- Alex Packer