Turning it Loose With the Blues Brothers

Courtesy of Jan Prins

Original content is an ideal praised and valued by many. In the various aspects of the entertainment industry, artists strive to come up with new and incredible works to present to their audiences.

Curiously titled, “The All-New Original Tribute to the Blues Brothers” is neither new nor original. The music has been around for a long time, and the two main roles are of former comedy actors Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi. The two made up the Blues Brothers, debuting in 1978 as a revivalist blues and soul band. Belushi passed away in 1982, but by then, the Blues Brothers had released three albums and a movie, cementing their place in the blues revival.

After another movie and several roster changes to the lineup, the Blues Brothers managed to find its way onto the stage in West End, London’s version of New York’s Broadway. There, it ran 46 weeks before touring the world and eventually finding its way to Cheng Hall in the Irvine Barclay Theater last week.

Directed by Brad Henshaw, the production is energetic, raucous and emotional at the right times. Daniel Fletcher and Henshaw himself play the Aykroyd-Belushi duo of Elwood Blues and “Joilet” Jake Blues respectively, dressed in their black suits and donning their essential sunglasses. Fletcher channels the smooth yet sometimes awkward Elwood, who really can shred on a harmonica (it’s truly a sight to see someone on his knees playing so intensely). As Jake Blues, Henshaw has a charm in his loud, sometimes roguishly rude mannerisms.

The production doesn’t bother to string together an elaborate plotline; that’s been done to a certain extent in the Blues Brothers movies, and the production does allude to it at times. Instead, the program celebrates what the duo was known for — their music and their delivery of it.

The music ranges from The Beatles to Cab Calloway to Elvis to Aretha Franklin, covering blues and soul pieces (“Sweet Home Chicago,” “Jailhouse Rock”) as well as injections of country, funk and rock (“Stand By Your Man,” “Living in America”). What makes this program great, though, is the manner in which it was performed. Henshaw and Fletcher impersonate the original Blues Brothers to near perfection, capturing every nuanced mannerism from Jake’s cartwheels to Elwood’s harmonica shredding.

The stunning trio of Bluettes back up Jake and Elwood, and each of them take turns leading strong, dynamic performances that would even draw some “Respect” from Aretha Franklin.

Every music piece sounds amazing in the theater, as the Barclay’s Cheng Hall offers great acoustics and allows for a great listening experience. The instruments are not blaring, but vibrant; the vocals are neither screeching or belching, but sure and soothing. They all come together in one blend of spectacular sound engineering.

One would think that such a raucous performance in the quaint suburbs of Irvine sounds out of place, but as it turns out, the many fans of the Blues Brothers have the ability to match and keep up with the energy of the show. Henshaw and Fletcher made sure to involve the crowd, at one point placing a spotlight on a lone woman in the front row to perform the dance to “Flip, Flop and Fly.” The audience needed little encouragement, spending most of the second act on their feet, singing and dancing along to pieces including “Jailhouse Rock” and “Everybody Needs Somebody.” Mind you, the age distribution of the audience trended more towards the older generation, and it was a sight to see them dancing like they just didn’t care.

“The All-New Original Tribute to the Blues Brothers” isn’t a new sensation, but there are things that can be described as timeless, especially when every experience is just as charming and engaging as the original. The Blues Brothers in Belushi and Aykroyd strove to revive the spirit of the blues and soul. Henshaw and Fletcher’s impersonations in turn continue to deliver that same love of the blues, evangelizing to the masses the same decades-old message.