Created by: Chris Hindle
Reviewer: Maryam Philpott
Motown music has been big business in the West End in the last few years with several big musicals charting the history of the famous record label, its star names and those famous soulful songs. The wonderful Memphis and a new production of Dreamgirls were a delight, while Motown: The Musical closed after an extended run, and next Spring Hairspray returns to London with a soundtrack inspired by the music of the early 1960s. With that in mind, The Chicago Blues Brothers franchise makes it own West End debut at the Savoy Theatre for a one-night only performance playing some of Motown’s biggest hits.
Framed as a Hitsville Radio performance in Detroit (quickly forgotten), the Chicago Blues Brothers, created by Chris Hindle who performs as Jake Blues, has been touring for 25-years and includes two lead singers, a backing troupe, band and horn section who largely play music from the 1980s film The Blues Brothers, itself nostalgically looking back to sounds from an earlier era. This latest incarnation of the show incorporates a variety of Motown hits among the soundtrack which the audience has primarily come to see.
There is a relentless energy and enthusiasm from the musicians, with an astonishing 27 individual musical numbers in just two hours of performance, several of which are Motown medleys, making the actual song count considerably higher. From the minute the Chicago Blues Brothers appear on stage performing Isaac Hayes and David Porter’s ‘Soul Man’ which appears in the movie they never flag, the pace is fast, the music is loud and they are determined that everyone will have a good time insisting that the audience sing, clap and dance along to as many songs as possible.
For fans of the film, all the crucial numbers are there – ‘Gimme Some Lovin’, ‘Think’, ‘Everybody Needs Somebody’ and even the Rawhide song. Many of these appear in the second half where standing is compulsory for the last 10 songs (whether you want to or not) as the audience are taught the moves to ‘Shake a Tail Feather’ as well as Tina Turner’s ‘Rolling on the River’ sung by Deeanne Dexeter. There are a hard-core group of fans, some in costume, dancing enthusiastically in the aisles and their seats, but eventually most of the audience is reduced to awkward shuffles as they tire long before the Chicago Blues Brothers.
The Motown numbers are secondary, and most appear as part of a medley including a combination of Smokey Robinson’s ‘Tracks of My Tears’ and two numbers by The Temptations – ‘Just My Imagination’ and ‘My Girl’. The Sweet Soul Sisters comprising Dexeter, Biddy Ronnelle and Hannah Shayle-Kennedy perform a selection inspired by The Supremes including ‘Don’t Hurry Love’, ‘Stop in the Name of Love’ and ‘You Keep Me Hangin’ On’, while Ronnelle also contributes a powerful version of Aretha Franklin’s ‘Respect’.
It’s a shame that so few of the songs are performed in full and while Hindle and co-star Gareth Davy’s voice suits the softer rolling rhythms of the distinctive Motown sound, everything is dialled-up all the time that the nuances are sometimes lost. Motown is as distinctive for funky upbeat numbers as the more introspective love songs, and Chicago Town Blues Brothers: Motown Mission would benefit from a little variety, a change of pace here and there allowing these talented musicians to showcase their vocal dexterity in some slower pieces.
But their style is full on and it works for them most of the time, particularly when delivering audience-pleasing songs from the film, not least in the bouncy opener to Act Two, Elvis Presley’s ‘Jailhouse Rock’ which is one of their best numbers. A slightly extended encore with the coy pretence of one more song takes the run time slightly over 140-minutes, but fans of the film would happily stay all night; fans of Motown maybe want a little bit more.
Reviewed on 4 August 2019 | Image: Contributed