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posted: 7/8/2011 11:00 AM

'Blues Brothers' tribute a lukewarm imitation

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  • Daniel Fletcher and Brad Henshaw respectively star as Elwood and Jake Blues in "The All New Original Tribute to the Blues Brothers" at the Auditorium Theatre of Roosevelt University in Chicago.

      Daniel Fletcher and Brad Henshaw respectively star as Elwood and Jake Blues in "The All New Original Tribute to the Blues Brothers" at the Auditorium Theatre of Roosevelt University in Chicago.

 
 

The 1980 hit film "The Blues Brothers" has unquestionably been one of the best and most enduring of all the movie spinoffs derived from NBC's "Saturday Night Live."

Even today, the John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd-created likenesses of Jake and Elwood Blues live on in the marketing for the nationwide chain of House of Blues music clubs, while "The All New Original Tribute to the Blues Brothers" is just now getting its belated U.S. debut at Chicago's Auditorium Theatre following a string of global engagements since its humble 1991 beginnings in a British pub.

In fact, you can spot the Auditorium Theatre in the out-of-date Chicago skyline backdrop for the show. It's a nice initial recognition, but as the "Blues Brothers" tribute plows along, you get the unsettling feeling that this undercooked show has also been representing Chicago at large around the world. The Windy City and the Blues Brothers characters deserve a better-written show than this.

The "Blues Brothers" tribute show operates on the assumption that audiences have already seen the classic film comedy, which starred Aykroyd and Wheaton native Belushi in the title roles. So the uncredited tribute authors felt no need to offer a logical scenario for those famed bespectacled brothers to be performing, or to explain why the police are in such incompetent pursuit of the duo.

Without a real plot, the tribute should have instead stuck to its strengths as a revue with songs featured in the film and similar numbers of the same ilk. This "Blues Brothers" largely succeeds when it just focuses on the music, though the oversized Auditorium Theatre isn't the most conductive for the show's built-in audience participation.

As Jake and Elwood, Brad Henshaw (who is also the show's director) and Daniel Fletcher respectively never betray their British Commonwealth origins. Instead, the two lay on thick Midwestern accents and do all the high-energy acts you expect of the Blues Brothers, from Jake's lumbering cartwheels to Elwood's skilled handling of the harmonica.

Henshaw's Jake and Fletcher's Elwood also get strong backing support from the "Bluettes" trio of Jocasta Almgill, Victoria Goddard and Alexus Ruth (who each get their moment to shine largely doing Aretha Franklin covers), plus a special guest star appearance by Antonio Fargas who sings a mean version of Cab Calloway's "Minnie the Moocher." The seven-member backing band led by music director/drummer Steve Parry also blazes along with plenty of brass and soul.

Technically, this "Blues Brothers" tribute features musically accomplished performances from all those involved. But even with their combined skill and energy, the show still comes off like an ersatz experience. When audiences can walk a few blocks over to Buddy Guy's Legends to hear real-deal blues performers, why pay to see actors doing spot on imitations of a fictional duo?

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