BWW Review: THE BLUES BROTHERS at Admiralspalast - 'They work hard for their money!'

BWW Review: THE BLUES BROTHERS at Admiralspalast - 'They work hard for their money!'

In 1978, when I was 16 years old, I witnessed the very first appearance of "The Blues Brothers" as a Sketch on NBC's Saturday Night Live. Jake and Elwood Blues were a very strange, somewhat comic, somewhat scary but amazingly cool stage act that was completely unique. It was an immediate sensation. That moment and the joy it brought to me and millions of other people are burned into our collective memories.

40 years later, the Blues Brothers "Brand" is still going strong. Last night, in Berlin's Admiralspalast, a group of 10, extremely hard-working musicians and singers did their very best to honor the memory of John Belushi and Dan Ackroyd's creation, and were, for the most part, quite successful.

An "officially licensed" touring production with the blessing of both Dan Ackroyd and Judith Belushi (John's widow) The Blues Brothers is a highly-choreographed, very entertaining, commercial product that has no pretense of being artistic ... and that is its greatest asset. This is pure, escapist entertainment. Check your brain at the door and just enjoy the music, the atmosphere and admire the discipline and professionalism of the artists onstage.

Brad Henshaw takes on John Belushi's role of "Jake E. Blues." In trying to fulfill the audience's expectations, he tries mightily to channel Mr. Belushi's manic, drug- and alcohol-fueled energy. That is a Sisyphean task and, in my opinion, somewhat counterproductive. He's the most effective when he simply commands the stage with a song. When he relies on his own musical instincts, he's a fine blues singer with a powerful voice and (from a purely vocal standpoint) a better singer than John Belushi ever was. Mr. Belushi was a completely unique, comic genius. Mr. Henshaw's strengths lie in other areas, but he has a good stage presence and musically, does most of the heavy-lifting during the two-hour performance.

BWW Review: THE BLUES BROTHERS at Admiralspalast - 'They work hard for their money!'

Mr. Henshaw is ably abetted by Christopher Chandler in the less thankful role of Elwood Blues. Dan Ackroyd's Elwood was and remains a mysteriously unique musical- and comic figure. Mr. Chandler is no Dan Ackroyd (an expectation which would be impossible to fulfill) but has a sly, somewhat goofy take on Elwood, performs his songs with a tongue-in-cheek humor and exhibits a great physicality in the role.

The Blues Brothers would be much less of a success without the powerhouse vocals, clever dance moves and high spirits of backup singers Jenessa Qua and Alexus Ruth as the "Bluettes." Rounding out the ensemble was a first-rate, onstage band. Like a well-oiled machine, Tony Jones. Alan Mian, Andrew Saphir, Sam Edwards and David and Rickie Mian roared through the musical numbers in this breathless concert.

My major criticism of this production is the sound. Here, first-rate singers and musicians are working like madmen to deliver a great show, and the sound technician responsible for their microphones seemed incapable of equalizing the frequencies on their microphones. Mr. Henshaw's vocals suffered the most from the poor sound. His powerful upper range was unnecessarily shrill and often very hard to listen to, through no fault of his own. Proper concert- or theatrical amplification is not only about making a sound louder but equalizing the frequencies to accommodate both the acoustics of the theater and a singer's vocal condition on any given day. The artists in The Blues Brothers deserve better sound, so does its audience.

Generally speaking, I am not a fan of tribute shows. I find most of them to be a poor facsimile of the work of great originals. That said, The Blues Brothers is a truly a fun night out. Had I not been working, reviewing the show, I certainly would have knocked back a couple of whiskeys and had even more fun than I did. To the artist's credit, the Berlin audience was on its feet clapping, dancing and singing along even before the end of Act One. Whatever one may think of a tribute show as an artistic endeavor, in my book, making an audience that happy is justification enough for a production to exist.

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