Review of The Blues Brothers - Summer Special at The Hippodrome
Well, the British summer weather may be letting us all down (yet again) at the moment, but we can always count on Jake and Elwood to bring a little sunshine into our lives and that's exactly what they are doing in a modest, yet invigorating revue at London's Hippodrome.
The limited "Summer Special" boasts the status of being an "approved Blues Brothers venture" and, judging from the energy levels pouring out from the small handful of performers on stage, it's easy to see why. If you are an avid follower of The Blues Brothers, I'm not sure if there'll be many surprises in store with this latest incarnation. Perhaps the inclusion of two "Summer Vibe" medleys is where the show slightly strays away from the traditional formula the most. Donning colourful, flamingo-infused Hawaiian shirts and matching shorts, the first medley is introduced with a short gag by the bassist playing the iconic "Summer Nights" melody from 'Grease,' before moving swiftly onto The Drifters' "Under the boardwalk" to Otis Redding's "(Sittin' On) The Dock of the Bay" and "Tequila" by The Champs (kudos to audience member Nicole who joined the action and downed a shot of the stuff like a pro at this point!). The Act II medley was book-ended by the 'Hair' anthem "Aquarius (Let the Sunshine In)" and included Motown classics "Heat Wave" and "Dancing in the Streets." Other summer-themed frolics included band members attempting a degree of choreography whilst wrapped in huge, swimming pool inflatables and hurling beach balls. God loves a trier.
Otherwise, all those Blues Brothers classics are here - kicking off the show with "Gimme Some Lovin'" and steamrolling through hits such as "Do You Love Me?", "Everybody Needs Somebody to Love," "Minnie The Moocher" and ending the evening with a crowd-pleasing encore of "Soul Man" and "Flip, Flop & Fly." Other highlights include a short prison-themed segment that includes "Riot in Cell Block Number Nine" and, of course, Elvis' "Jailhouse Rock."
Taking on the role of Elwood, Joshua Mumby is like a duracell rabbit on stage and, at times, racing around the audiotrium like a madman. Highly skilled on the harmonica, equally entertaining with both baritone and bass vocals and also serving as the show's director, Mumby is to be commended as the cornerstone of this production, whilst David Kristopher-Brown might be considered the show-stealer and star of this show with powerful lead vocals and the selection of the songs that show off more of a vocal range. There is no I in team, however, and the moments when the brothers dance together symbolise the true spirit of the show.
There is some necessary support from Helen Hart and Hannah Kee as Stax Sisters, who not only provide background singing, but also take the lead on show-stoppers like "Respect" and "Proud Mary," and then there's Arnold Mabhena, who multi-tasks as Ray (part-time Ray Chales Impersonator and part-time evangelsitic preacher) and takes the lead himself with hits such as "Shake a Tail Feather." These three hardworking, ensemble players inject the well-needed dose of variety and help the pacing and energy levels of the show from dipping.
Where the show falls short perhaps and where the pacing does get a little sluggish is during the dialogue between musial numbers. Mumby and Kristopher-Brown's interactions often don't quite land with the audience and you feel the actors are working far too hard with an undeserving script. With no specific narrative arc to the show, I feel the evening would have perhaps benefited from a simple storyline to carry us through those intermittent scenes more smoothly. But at the end of the day, patrons are coming for the music and this is a musical revue - not a musical - with a 7-piece band that covers a handful of genres from Country & Western (with the logo of "Bob's Country Bunker" hanging prominentlty downstage right) to Gospel, Soul & RnB (with "Soul Food Cafe" downstage left).
Since The Blues Brothers burst onto the scene on "Saturday Night Live" in 1978, created by comic geniuses Dan Akroyd and John Belushi and immortalised via Universal Pictures' hit 1980 film, they have become an act that crosses generations. Indeed, at the performance I attended, it was greatly satisfying to see a room full of people ranging from youngsters in their 20s to the young at heart in their 70s under one roof. And after a polite appreciation of Act I (and perhaps after the consumption of a few adult beverages to boot), they all quickly thawed in Act II with every single patron shaking their own tail feather, before heading out to dance in the streets... or just head home contented for a nice cuppa!