So at the Auditorium Theatre – the 3,929-seat Auditorium Theatre – one currently finds an Australian Elwood Blues, a British Jake Blues and aEuropean cover band, all working, along with a trio of women called the Bluettes, for Dutch producers.
A young man named Luke Jasztal is, if I understand the credits correctly, at once an assistant stage manager, an understudy and a character akin to Elvis. And if that were not enough to forge a truly surreal evening in Sweet Home Chicago, there is also a personal appearance by Antonio Fargas, best known for playing Huggy Bear, the jive-talking informant on "Starsky and Hutch."
I was still recovering from the initial surprise of seeing Fargas, whose street-smart TV character fascinated me in my early teens, when he re-appeared in blinding Cab Calloway attire, doing "Minnie the Moocher" and enthusiastically leading the audience in "Hi De Hi De Hi De Hi." Later on, Fargas also appeared dressed as a kind of Uncle Sam, but I should probably leave it there as I am supposed to be reviewing "The All New Original Tribute to the Blues Brothers," an oxymoron-infused title if ever there was one, not "Huggy is Back," although I for one am glad that Hug is clearly enjoying life to the full.
"The All New …" – oh, for goodness sake – has played in the West End of London for many months and toured to the likes of Zurich and Copenhagen and other locales where the characters created by Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi have shown stunning longevity. You can read this pedigree all over the show.
I don't mean that entirely pejoratively. This is quite a polished entertainment: a high-energy race through an eclectic catalog of soul and R & B standards, with a little Tammy Wynette thrown in for laughs. The seven-piece band is very solid, the sound reinforcement is far better than that of the many touring shows that have struggled in this acoustically tricky venue, production values are solid, and the singing is the work of accomplished session musicians. Daniel Fletcher, who plays Elwood and is a limited comedian but lovely singer, takes the lead on a distinctive, disciplined and generally superb arrangement of "Under the Boardwalk." And Brad Henshaw, who directs and plays Jake, is no vocal slouch. He has some serious chops and it is mostly the force of his strong and engaging personality that holds this strange concoction together.
On the other hand, this show also has that non-specific, retro-USA thing going that one frequently sees in Europe (just as you see the reverse here). The good people of Oslo are generally not concerned with the finer cracks of the concrete of Lower Wacker Drive. A good night out means a couple of genial, vaguely amusing guys in hats, ties and dark suits, some beautiful back-up singers with big pipes, the Stars and Stripes in the rear, and a succession of classic American oldies from "Soul Man" to "Riot in Call Block No. 9" belted out as a high-energy party allowing one to groove right there in one's seat. Although this show would be far more effective in the right size of venue, it'll work for some.
For some. These are not studied portraits of Aykroyd and Belushi's characters, nor of the men who created them (after some initial wrangling, the show settled with Aykroyd and Judith Belushi Pisano, who own the rights). There is no evident desire to re-examine their legacy, explore their relationship, nor bring anything new to the table. The comedy is thin and familiar. This show, clearly, is the creation of enthusiastic fans. As such, it lacks danger, challenge and, Lord knows, originality, but it has an infectious enthusiasm.
All Blues Brothers shows (and I've seen quite a few) are strange. There's always a meta aspect that no one wants to confront. The Blues Brothers were, after all, a cover band—so you're watching a cover band cover a cover band, which is really one cover band too many.
Given that they were always fifty-percent Canadian, the Bros. Blue never epitomized pure Chicago. So this show doesn't deserve the disdain reserved in certain quarters for those who put ketchup on a Chicago-style dog. It's just a song-and-dance party with an international pedigree in an absurdly big room. Satire is elusive but, truly, everybody nearly kills themselves to try and make the show fun. In Chicago, that counts for something.
When: Through July 24
Where: Auditorium Theatre, 50 E. Congress Pkwy.
Running time: 2 hours, 20 minutes
Tickets: $25-55 at 800-982-2787 or http://www.ticketmaster.com/auditoriumCopyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times