The Black Blues Brothers is a show that’s already pretty established. Judging from their posters and other promotional material, the Kenya-based group had already taken their show on the road, gotten rave reviews, and attracted a loving fanbase. When I saw the show, and saw the delight it gave the huge, crowdedvenue full of laughing and smiling faces, I could see why it is already such a popular phenomenon.
The Black Blues Brothers featured a group of five young, Black, acrobats, dressed in the iconic suits, hats, and sunglasses from the film The Blues Brothers. Using props, costumes, setpieces, fire, and of course, lots and lots of music inspired byThe Blues Brothers, these five artists performed trick after trick. Many were death-defying, all were done with a big smile and to the sounds of cheers from the totally enthralled crowd.
The show started off quietly enough: a stage decked out like a stylish, Chicago hotel room from the Jazz Age. Three of the five acrobats entered dressed as hotel busboys, cleaning up and living an ordinary workday. Then the radio came on, glitching through several tunes and finally stopping on Ella Fitzgerald’s “Dream a Little Dream of Me.” The youngest “busboy,” begins dancing but the boss stops him: ‘Too much to do. Get back to work.” The “busboy” tries a couple more times and gets squelched a couple more times before two more actors show up, dressed as the blues brothers, the busboy and the others join them, and the real show can begin.
After that intro, it was all backflips, human pyramids, climbing acts, tumbling acts, and balancing acts. These five men were at the top of their physical game and performed feats of strength and agility that I didn’t even think were possible. Highlights included an act with an enormous flag, one man waved it while the others took turns flipping and leaping under and over it, a limbo pole that they set afire, and a large skipping rope. The acts also involved audience participation. In one act, they invited a young lady onstage and serenaded her with tricks and bouquets of flowers, and in another, the acrobats brought up several children to try out the limbo pole (that was before they set the pole on fire). Musical highlights included a setpiece performed to Aretha Franklin’s song “Think” (which Aretha performs with so much fire and passion in the original film), an act done to “Sweet Home Chicago,” and, of course, a grand finale to the film’s final song: “Everybody Needs Somebody to Love.”
The show (to my acrobatically untrained eye) was executed flawlessly. Not once (as far as I could see, did anybody trip up or misstep. The show was full of little jokes and some very masculine competition (the rivalry between the busboy and the boss came back again a couple of times) and all in all was cheeky good fun. I found it interesting, and quite touching, that the show began with a group of workers who dreamed of being something else. Historically, so many films cast Black characters in similar roles of service, dusting in the background while the “talent” hogs all the spotlight. Starting the show with background characters..who have way more talent than most people can imagine felt like a sweet reclamation of power.
Equally sweet was the whole show’s obvious love of the film that inspired their act: The Blues Brothers. The love of Chicago culture, Jazz culture, and all the other quirks that make The Blues Brothers such a memorable film was palpable throughout the show. It made me, as someone who grew up near Chicago and its cultural wealth, a bit misty-eyed. The stylishness, the artistry, and the joy that made growing up near Chicago so memorable was the energy that made the show go and that made me, along with the rest of the audience, sit on the edge of my seat and bounce up and down with joy. I felt like a kid again. A kid growing up somewhere near sweet home Chicago….
Recommended Drink: a Chicago-style Old Fashioned. Duh!
Performances of The Black Blues Brothers have now concluded at EdFringe 2023. Keep up with the performers online for future showings.