Friday, March 9, 2012

CONCERT REVIEW: The All New Original Tribute to the Blues Brothers (The Milwaukee Theatre, Milwaukee)

1980's The Blues Brothers was one of the most watched films around my house when I was growing up, rivaled only by the Ghostbusters movies, and with good reason; it's got everything you could want: Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi hilariously reprising the roles they premiered on Saturday Night Live, performances by a veritable who's-who of legendary soul and R&B artists, John Landis in the director's chair, tons of cameos and more car crashes than you could possibly count. In short, it's a classic, a comedic masterpiece even, so I tend to almost take it personally when it's legacy is sullied by blatant cash-ins, and wouldn't you know it, just when I'd finally scrubbed any trace of Blues Brothers 2000 from my memory, The All New Original Tribute to the Blues Brothers rolls into town and sets me groaning all over again. 

Brad Henshaw and Daniel Fletcher star as Jake and Elwood Blues respectively, and visually, they certainly look the part, although the fact that their faces are obscured by the trademark fedoras and sunglasses (and the fact that I'm a bit nearsighted) certainly helped. Vocally, their impressions were in constant flux between dead-on and weirdly off-putting as they ran through all of the numbers you'd expect from the film, the albums and the SNL performances, including "Rawhide", "Stand by Your Man", "Rubber Biscuit", "I'm a King Bee", "Soul Man" and so on and so forth. Hell, they even took a stab at recreating Belushi's version of Joe Cocker doing the Beatles' "With a Little Help From My Friends", which wasn't even a Blues Brothers bit for Christ's sake, meaning they did a tribute to a tribute to a tribute (now that's some meta shit). Of course, they were there to do more than sing, namely make people laugh, which they mostly accomplished by throwing in a few swear words and some crowd participation (ugh). One thing the show does make you realize, however, is that pulling off an effective pratfall is not as easy to as the dearly departed Belushi made it look.

Going in, I half expected a facsimile of the classic Blues Brothers band, at least a fake Donald "Duck" Dunn chomping on a pipe, but instead found only 6 musicians filling out a poorly designed set that looked like the Disneyland version of a dark Chicago alley. They delivered just fine on what little was asked of them, but it was hard to focus on their chops when there were so many confusing questions to ponder, like "Why is the bass player wearing a basketball jersey and a do-rag?", "Why is the horn section dressed like army guys?" and "What am I doing here?". But the head-scratching reached epic proportions whenever Luke Jasztal was on stage. The young white performer filled two roles, firstly the flamboyant Reverend Lovejoy (not the Reverend Lovejoy), a part clearly based on the animated black preacher played in the original film by James Brown, looking utterly cheesy in the kind of pimp/70s guy outfit which seems to be the perennial Halloween costume choice for frat boys every where. If that wasn't embarrassing enough, he returned later as Cab Calloway, or at least what Jake and Elwood, in character, introduced as a tribute to Cab Calloway, noting that they couldn't present the real thing because he's dead, which makes no fucking sense coming from a guy pretending to be John Belushi. I'm not sure if a pasty faced young man playing the part of a great African-American performer is racist (it's certainly dumb), but come on, you're telling me there's not a talented black singer/dancer out there who could use a job? 

So, would I recommend checking the show out? Hell no, but if you end up getting free tickets, as I did and which, given the many empty seats at tonight's performance, is a very real possibility, it's definitely a bizarre way to spend an evening, just don't make the mistake I did of going in stone cold sober. Assuming it requires you to open your wallet however, do yourself a favor and stay home and watch the movie again, it's cheaper, funnier and, even though it came out over 30 years ago, so much fresher.  

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