Review: The Blues Brothers @ New Theatre
It was recently announced that The Commitments shall be turned into a musical for the stage. This is one of Ireland’s most successful and popular films, with concert versions being greeted with much enthusiasm. The songs featured would simply make people want to see it live. With the Blues Brothers, people need little persuasion to flock to see them.
The Blues Brothers film from 1980 is one of the most famous music films ever made. I don’t regard it as a musical, since that requires people spontaneously bursting into song, whilst in the film most of the songs are confined to the stage with microphones and the band. Aretha Franklin belting out Think in the diner is the exception.
The film has created a huge cult following. The premise was originally a skit on Saturday Night Live. It was here that Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi created the characters. With the performances going well it seemed a film was in order to help beef up the back story of the brothers: Seeing the errors of their ways, the siblings find God and seek out a way help fund their orphanage that they grew up in, to stop it running down.
Costing over $20 million dollars to make and featuring one of the most outrageous car chase scenes in film history, the reception for the film was lukewarm. But their live performances were causing quite a stir, adding to the cult status, that was soon to be global. Yet sadly you can’t think about The Blues Brothers without thinking about John Belushi’s untimely death in 1982 of a drug overdose. The ‘speedball’ consisting of cocaine and heroin he took that fateful night, only confirmed his excesses and lack of control of his fame. One wonders what he would have thought of the ‘‘church of the Blues Brothers’’ that is seen today.
The concert here had very little of the films storyline and its focus was on the songs taken from the film. I saw the film many years ago and did used to listen to a West End CD of the show. The songs are stuffed with famous and charismatic bluesy charm. If you don’t know the songs Everybody Needs Somebody To Love, Shake A Tail Feather, Minnie The Moocher and Sweet Home Chicago, then it’s about time you did. Much emphasis seemed to go on this show being ‘Approved’ as the official show and the fact it’s presented by Dan Aykroyd and Judith Belushi. Judging from this, there have been many unofficial shows and knock-offs.
I even had the great idea to dress up in their famous attire for the evening. It’s not that hard to do. All you need is a black suit, black skinny tie, white shirt, white socks with black shoes (these two never go together, but that’s what they wore) and to finish it off nicely a pair of black Ray-Ban sunglasses and a pork pie hat. I have not done fancy dress for years and it was such a good laugh. Granted I was the only one there who had done so, but it was a Tuesday night. I’d rather that then me being the only one not in fancy dress, when everyone else is. I had all this apart from the hat. My plus one was able to get lend me a dusty bowler hat. Although this is slightly different from a pork pie, I felt at times more like Mr Benn rather than a Blues Brother. I felt an absolute tool going down my road in costumeâ€¦
Although the show was a success, I still felt like I wanted more. Did I crave a narrative? More singers? I was surprised that they had the Reverend Cleophus James played by a white singer, when in the films it’s by James Brown and the songs being in the sprit of evangelical spirituals. Even his best song is omitted from his concert, The Old Landmark much to my disappointment. Now there’s a song to get the heart racing. Both Brad Henshaw as rambunctious Jake and Chris Chandler as the straight-acting Elwood had the persona and rowdy discipline that is required when playing the brothers Blue. The Bluettes backing group and the band were also a great effort in the show and got us up and dancing on several occasions (if you're thinking of going, there is a fair bit of audience participation involved).
So grab your gear, tune your voices and pop on your sunglasses, because ‘‘You're on a mission from God’’.