On a mission from God — via Britain

Once again, sporting their iconic hats, sunglasses, and suits, Jake and Elwood live on in the hit show, "The All-New Original Tribute to The Blues Brothers," which currently is making its West Coast premiere at the Irvine Barclay Theatre.

The critically acclaimed West End production has been upgraded for its U.S. tour, which features the original London cast with additional songs, revived choreography, and a brand new set.

The fully revamped production, which started touring the U.S. in the summer at the Chicago Auditorium Theatre, will wrap up its American tour in Irvine on April 7.

"This [America] is where it [The Blues Brothers] grew up," the show's director and writer Brad Henshaw said in a phone interview. "This is where it comes from. This is organically where it lives and reigns. So, it was a dream to come play in America; it was something that we thought would never happen, bringing this back home."

Henshaw also stars in the show as "Jake," alongside his fellow anti-hero "Elwood," played by Daniel Fletcher. The two-and-a-half hour, high-energy musical revue will be full of dancing, singing, live music, audience interaction, as well as parodies from Saturday Night Live (SNL) and the hit 1980 musical comedy film starring John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd.

"I've run into a number of people who have asked 'how much is it based on the movie?' "Irvine Barclay Theatre President Douglas Rankin said. "It's really not based on the movie, so it's not in translation of the movie onto a live stage. It's just inspired by the characters."

The production showcases decades of the duo's most memorable soul, blues and R&B hits, such as "Shake A Tail Feather," "Think," "Respect," "Gimme Some Loving" and the toe-tapping classic, "Everybody Needs Somebody To Love," which were pulled from all five of the Blues Brothers records.

In true Blues Brothers' tradition, the duo is backed by one of Europe's finest onstage, seven-piece bands, along with three soulful singers: Jocasta Almgill, Victoria Ekanoye and Victoria Goddard, appropriately named "The Bluettes."

"Their music is there for everyone," Henshaw said. "All of those great writers and performers; that music gave birth to what's around today. This is the stuff of legends."

Audiences, notoriously comprised of young revivalists and those who lived the Blues Brothers era, are encouraged to dress up and once again, bring to life the silver screen legacy of the Blues Brothers.

"There are cults in Europe," Henshaw said. "People love to come see the show and come dressed as the Blues Brothers. It gives people a different identity. They can hide their selves through those hours and just live that time again."

Shortly after its premiere in a small seaside pub in Brighton, England, in 1991, "The All-New Original Tribute to the Blues Brothers" swiftly rose to fame, becoming an uncontainable sensation.

"Long before shows like 'Mama Mia' and 'We Will Rock You' and all those kinds of shows — those shows did not exist when Blue Brothers first came about in 1991," Brad Henshaw recalled. "This was the first of its kind, what was described as a hybrid."

Believing the Blues Brothers concept would appeal to a broad spectrum of audiences, theater producer David Pugh and film director David Leyland took on the show, which opened in the West End only six months later that year. In fact, the show did so well that the run was extended from the original six weeks to an unheard of 46 weeks, playing to a total of 150,000 people.

Since then, the biggest Blues Brothers show in the world has frequently toured Europe as well as played four limited seasons in London. It has also toured Japan, South Africa, New Zealand and Australia. In Sydney in 1993, actor Russell Crowe appeared in the lead role of "Jake Blues."

"The popularity of the show has never waned," Henshaw said. "It will be thirty years in March since John Belushi died. His memory lives on and we hope we are a part of that memory, because we hold very respectful and very humbly the roots of what we are doing."

If You Go

What: "The All-New Original Tribute to The Blues Brothers"

Where: Irvine Barclay Theatre, 4242 Campus Drive, Irvine

When: Opened Wednesday and runs till Saturday.

More information: For tickets, which range from $25 to $45, and show times, go to http://www.thebarclay.org or call 949-854-4646 ext. 1.

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