The Blues Brothers – Summer Special continues at the London Hippodrome until 26 August.
Star rating: four stars ★ ★ ★ ★ ✩
The Blues Brothers are one of, if not, the most recognisable comedy duos of the modern era. The original film which graced our screens in 1980 – starring Dan Aykroyd and the late John Belushi – is, of course, about recently paroled convict Jake and his brother Elwood who embark on a ‘mission from God’ to reunite their R&B band. Their ultimate aim is to organise a performance in order to raise $5,000 to save the orphanage they grew up in.
This concert form re-imagining features more than 20 of the most popular rock‘n’roll classics of all time such as ‘Shake a Tail Feather’, ‘Respect’ and ‘Jailhouse Rock’. Additional material, never featured before in a Blues Brothers production, includes ‘Wipe Out’ and ‘Higher and Higher’ (created under the guidance of John Belushi’s widow, Judith Belushi).
An incredibly tight seven-piece band made up of drums, bass guitar, electric guitar and a New Orleans-style brass section (trombone, trumpet and alto saxophone) are led by the wonderful James Robert Ball who is up dancing with the singers whenever he is given the chance.
Each member of the band is indeed part of the cast as they join in the organised chaos with sharp choreography from Lily Howkins, and well-timed actions, evidently staying true to the charismatic Blues Brothers style.
Despite the awkward shape and size of the stage (I assume that is why Jake does not perform his signature backflip through the crowd!) the entire ensemble truly brings the 230-seater venue to life.
The clear star of the show is David Kristopher-Brown who portrays Jake Blues. His mighty vocal on ‘Back in Your Arms Again’ is showstopping stuff.
However, I did feel the song was slightly let down by the mundane piano sound of the keyboard, which was the only accompaniment to Kristopher-Brown’s superb rendition.
There is detailed direction from Joshua Mumby, who also plays Elwood. Not only is his low vocal range put to good use on songs such as ‘Rawhide’ and ‘Rubber Biscuit’, but he also entertains the audience with his comic timing and expert harmonica playing throughout various other numbers. At one point, I thought that the harmonica was pre-recorded as it was nearly too perfect.
Although not quite true to the original characters (the Blues Brothers were often known for being awful singers!), Kristopher-Brown and Mumby manage to get their tonsils around some legendary material and thoroughly impress with their phenomenal energy.
Helen Hart and Hannah Kee are introduced as the ‘Stax Sisters’, but are not just backing dancers. They both lead various songs with their diva-like performances on ‘Think’ and ‘Respect’, giving Aretha Franklin’s original tracks a run for their money. Hart also shines when she serenades the crowd with her dreamy vocals on ‘I Never Loved a Man’.
Newcomer to the show, Arnold Mabhena, fills in the gaps and has fun going miles over-the-top with his various cameos as Ray Charles and James Brown.
The clever costumes, picked out to accompany specific songs and themes, also impress, especially the Hawaiian suits the Brothers wear for the beach medley that brings a great Act I to a close.
The lighting is flawless, well thought out, and brilliantly placed.
Occasionally, the staging of the show is a little too busy, but it still has plenty going for it – not least the way the audience feels part of the experience – which is of course what this type of production is all about.