REVIEW: The Blues Brothers Christmas Special (Arts Theatre)
The huge ‘80s cult film “The Blues Brothers” was born out of a shared love for blues music between the main actors John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd, and the same mutual love and interest is what inspired the Hartshorn-Hook troupe to put on their tribute show.
Having just been released from prison, Jake Blues and his brother Elwood visit the orphanage they grew up in. As there is no more funding, it is on the verge of being shut down. The brothers decide they want to help raise the needed finances, and the only way to do so is to reunite their old band. None of that, and especially none of the car chases are featured on stage in this production. The year the film was released, the “Blues Brothers Band” went on a promotional tour; the Xmas Special at the Arts Theatre is more reminiscent of that. The production is a concert in character, guiding its audience through the venues of Bob’s Country Bunker, the Soul Food Bar and the Palace Hotel.
David Kristopher-Brown and Joshua Mumby, who channel their inner Jake and Elwood, hint at film scenes and dialogues, but the show never turns into a musical. Mostly they stay within the expected classics such as Soul Man, Minnie the Moocher and Jailhouse Rock, but as this is the Xmas Special, it also features outrageous Christmas outfits and soulful Christmas numbers.
The Arts Theatre is an officially “approved Blues Brothers Venue”, and Kristopher-Brown and Joshua Mumby have been portraying the singing outlaws for years – in partnership with the original cast. The abundant energy of the actors and musicians is stunning, and successfully transfers the atmosphere of the film and its epic soundtrack to the stage. Without any interval, they jump, twist, roll, fall, jive and shake it all across it. The live band relentlessly groves and parties in the background. Simon Ray Harvey, who plays multiple roles such as Ray Charles and a pastor, never fails to animate the audience and add an extra kick.
The show promotes itself as a party and should be taken as such. It is neither a musical, nor a pure concert, and definitely thrives when the audience interacts by clapping and singing (and dancing!) along. However, it is not clear from the onset what they are actually trying to achieve and whether guests are encouraged to join in or not. Quite clearly, the cast tries to infect the audience with their energy, but the audience (being British and reserved) kept on shushing anyone who dared to cheer loudly along – until the actors openly asked for participation.
People going should be aware what they are in for – an interactive tribute concert with the Blues Brothers coming alive on stage while not re-telling their story – so the thoroughly enjoyable party can begin from the onset!
Reviewed by: Lisa Theresa Downey-Dent
Photos: Piers Foley Photography