The thing that made the Blues Brothers so special, of course, was their total commitment to their personae and to their music.
Jake and Elwood may have been the brainchild of two comedians in their prime. They may have been born of a Saturday Night Live sketch that saw John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd dressed up as bees. And their film may have come as close as we’ll ever see to a Road Runner chase sequence rendered in live action. But they were no joke. Neither parody nor tribute, the Blues Brothers succeeded as real musicians, with a real band behind them. (In naming some of those band members – Steve Cropper, Paul Shaffer, Matt “Guitar” Murphy, North Texas alum “Blue” Lou Marini, the late great Alan “Mr. Fabulous” Rubin and Donald “Duck” Dunn – I’m only scratching the surface of their legend.)
So when I learned that the Overtime Theater was trying to recapture their magic, this was something I had to see and hear.
The S.A. Blues Brothers Rhythm and Blues Revue Show would be the final main-stage show for the Overtime’s Blue Star incarnation, as (following a successful Kickstarter campaign) the theater would soon move to a new location. And the level of talent assembled for the show promised a fitting last-hurrah spectacular. Jaime Ramirez, a rising star in local music, theatre, and musical theatre, would back up the brothers alongside his Marco Cholo Quintet (with an assist from “Pistol Pete” Egly on guitar). Sarah Goodwin, Kes Scudday, and Jules Vaquera would offer their voices as “The Ladies”.
And front and center, as the sons of Elwood, would be Ben “J. ‘Jailbird'” Scharff and Bryan “Elwood Jr. II” Ortiz.
Even without the obvious physical resemblance, you really couldn’t ask for more perfect casting. With their shared gift for physical acting, their experience in musical theatre, and – here’s that word again – their commitment, I knew that Bryan and Ben could put on a terrific show.
So it was with a measure of cautious excitement that I made my way to the Overtime on May 19, the last night of the Blue Star era. This was something kind of daring they were attemping, and I hoped they could capture the spirit of those original Blues Brothers.
From the moment Jaime and the band launched into that classic medley of “Time Is Tight” and “I Can’t Turn You Loose”; from the moment Bryan and Ben walked out on stage, Bryan with that briefcase handcuffed to his wrist and Ben swinging the key; from the moment they stepped into the opening notes of “Everybody Needs Somebody To Love”… they had me.
This was no mere tribute band. Ben and Bryan had the look, the sound, the moves of Jake and Elwood, but more than that, they had the spirit. They believed and believed in their roles, and gave their all to make sure the audience believed in them too. (Jaime, his band, and The Ladies offered fantastic support, with Jaime taking his turn in the spotlight on “Shake Your Tail Feather”, and Kes leading the Ladies on Aretha’s classic “Think”.)
And when they launched into “Soul Man” (the most essential song in any Blues Brothers show), I’d like to think that whereever they were, Jake and Duck and Mr. Fabulous, and all the other musicans who left us too soon, were on their feet with the rest of us.
As a farewell to Blue Star, it was a fantastic show. As a Blues Brothers show, it was pretty awesome. And all around, it blew us away.
The Overtime just announced its new location this week, so you can count on another show from the S.A. Blues Brothers. So keep your eyes and ears open. You really don’t want to miss these guys.
Thanks to Bryan, Ben, Jaime, The Ladies, the band, and the Overtime for a great night. (This includes the theater’s improv troupe, The Denials, who officially closed down the old venue with a high-energy show of their own.) And thanks as always to you for reading.
Until the next time, “be seeing you…”