Director: Joshua Mumby
Choreographer: Lily Howkins
Musical Director: James Robert Ball
Reviewer: Deborah Parry
You may not have seen it, but chances are you’ve heard of a rather iconic cult 1980s film called The Blues Brothers – you’ll certainly recognise the outfits, the sunglasses and the deadpan faces of the two stars (the late) John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd. Well, ever since the success of the flick, tribute acts have been popping (or should that be ‘souling’) up all over the globe and now Hartshorn–Hook Productions brings us another at, the closest thing we’ll probably ever get to Las Vegas in London, the Hippodrome casino in Leicester Square.
Like most Blues Brothers tribute shows, this production is more of a review than an actual book musical, so don’t go expecting a scene by scene re-enactment of the original film – you’ll be disappointed, but there are enough nods to it to keep most fans happy.
We are taken through a series of songs, some from the film, some not (and, strangely, few are of the blues genre), all staged with an element of theatricality – a little bit of dialogue and an energy that wouldn’t seem out of place at Disneyland (performers Helen Hart and Hannah Kee smile with an enthusiasm that tips over from endearing to Stepford Wives frequently). The cast try and convince us that they’re having the time of their lives and you can’t blame them – there isn’t much other than their vivacity to keep us engaged (as mentioned – the piece is not plot-heavy) but, still, in a small space, having the dancing equivalent of an atomic bomb at spitting distance feels a bit claustrophobic.
Joshua Mumby and David Kristopher-Brown play Elwood and Jake aka The Blues Brothers and they both sing their hearts out, with impressive voices; what they lack is that extra ingredient – the ability to radiate a natural comedic energy. It is not an easy ask, though, the characters were originally developed for a Saturday Night Live sketch – an American television show that is famous for its brand of satire and for launching the careers of hundreds of actor/comedians including Eddie Murphy, Steve Martin, Tina Fey and, of course, the stars of the film – Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi. So the performers, on this occasion, have big shoes to fill. Perhaps it is unfair then to have the expectation of being offered anything here but a fun tribute to the Blues Brothers, as opposed to competing with the charisma of the actors who originated them and, thus, Mumby and Kristopher-Brown do a good enough job.
Costume changes are frequent and are well fitting – both literally and figuratively. Despite being staged in a theatre in a casino, the female performers’ outfits are always classy and never seep into the realm of trashy showgirl. When the famous blues song King Bee is performed, it is amusing to see cast members in stripy anthophilia attire, with antenna included. And if you’re wondering what makes this particular production a ‘summer special’ there is a nice compilation of songs about the season, with actors in bright and fun clothing that wouldn’t look out of place on the sunniest of days on the sandiest of beaches.
The second act trumps the first, is much better paced and gives us the song that is most famous from the film – Everybody Needs Somebody To Love (one the fans will be waiting for). Towards the end of the piece we are encouraged by the cast to stand up and boogie along in the aisles and, despite feeling a little bit cruise ship, compliance will guarantee a grin, at the very least – so do.
We’ve all heard of the winter blues but British summers are notorious for a lack of sunshine – so if you’re looking for a bit of a lift this season and some throwaway fun then this show could be just the ticket…but don’t go expecting anything with substance – you’ll get some soul but, as for heart, watch the film instead.
Runs until 26 August 2017 | Image: Darren Bell