The David Leland Version has been staged London's West End four time: 1991, 1994, 1996, and 2001. This stage show had its roots in some 'blues brothers' inspired concerts that Tony McCormick and his band The Funk Skunks did in the late 1980s in Brighton. Then, fresh from their acclaimed run in the West End musical Blood Brothers, the actors Con O'Neil and Warwick Evans joined in, playing the roles of Jake and Elwood, at a pub gig at the Hare and Hounds in Brighton. Then just a short couple of months later, with David Leland on board as the director, the show opened at the Whitehall Theatre in August 1991. Initially booked for a 12-week run, the show was so well received that it run for 10 months! Following the hugely successful original West End run at the Whitehall Theatre, Dan Aykroyd and Judy Belushi-Pisano, wife of John Belushi, requested that the above-named show be deemed 'The Official Tribute to the Blues Brothers'.
The Joshua Mumby Version has been staged in two 'themed' versions in London in 2015 and 2017.West End Premiere - David Leland version - 1991 1st West End Revival - David Leland version - 1994 2nd West End Revival - David Leland version - 1996 3rd West End Revival - David Leland version - 2001 Xmas Special - Joshua Mumby Version - 2015 Summer Special - Joshua Mumby Version - 2017
The story goes that Joliet Jake and Elwood Blues were brought up in the bleak Rock Island City orphanage, and were bonded blood brothers in a ceremony in which a guitar string, formerly belonging to celebrated bluesman Elmore James, was used to draw the vital fluid from each of the duo's middle finger-digits. These were later waved liberally in the direction of various representatives of Illinois' law enforcement community, rednecks, Nazis and jilted fiancées, in the service of the orphanage.
Jake and Elwood made their screen debuts courtesy of their original alter egos — John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd — on the popular US TV comedy variety show Saturday Night Live. Belushi and Aykroyd first performed a blues number together on an edition of the show in January 1976 in a regular slot in which members of the Saturday Night Live team appeared dressed as bees. The duo gave a spirited rendition of Muddy Waters' I'm a King Bee to a rapturous reception.
Belushi and Aykroyd warmed up Saturday Night Live audiences as the Blues Brothers for a year before the act was included in another edition of the show transmitted in April 1978. Introducing their first television appearance, Paul 'The Shiv' Shaffer, Saturday Night Live's backing band's pianist, announced:
"In 1969, Marshall Checker, of the Legendary Checker's Records, called me about a new blues act that had been playing in small, funky clubs on Chicago's South Side. Today... they are no longer an authentic blues act but have managed to become a viable commercial product. So now, let's join Joliet Jake and his silent brother Elwood — the Blues Brothers."
Despite this tongue-in-cheek introduction, Belushi and Aykroyd performed earnest versions of Hey, Bartender and I Don't Know, performances which both pleased and puzzled a Saturday Night Live audience accustomed to established musical acts on the show. The audience were unsure if the Blues Brothers were supposed to be taken seriously, or if, since they were two of America's best-known comedians, the routine was intended to be funny. But Belushi was serious about blues music and had plans for the Blues Brothers beyond the confines of Saturday Night Live.
Following the success of their first Saturday Night Live appearance as the musical double act, Belushi and Aykroyd discussed making some short Blues Brothers films for inclusion in the show. During the summer of 1978, Aykroyd expanded these ideas into a full-length film script in which Jake and Elwood reform their blues band to raise money for the Rock Island City orphanage. Belushi offered the script to Universal and, since the studio was enjoying a number one hit with Animal House at the time, they gave the go-ahead to make the film.
Originally conceived as a skit, the Blues Brothers were a peculiar combination of comedy, kitsch, and classic blues and soul. Their 'mission from God' had nothing to do with some fictitious orphanage, but was rooted in Belushi's belief in the blues and his desire to popularise the music he loved. The linchpin of this quest may have long since vanished in a maelstrom of drugs, but his legacy lives on.
The Blues Brothers stage shows celebrate the sound and style of the cult that has grown up around the two formidable characters of Jake and Elwood, created by Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi on the American television programme Saturday Night Live and the subsequent movie The Blues Brothers.
West End Premiere - David Leland version - 1991
Previewed 6 August 1991, Opened 12 August 1991, Closed 6 June 1992 at the Whitehall Theatre (now Trafalgar Theatre)
The cast featured Con O'Neill as 'Jake', and Warwick Evans as 'Elwood', with Greg Brown, Ian Roberts, and Liza Spenz.
Directed by David Leland, with choreography by Carole Todd, designs by Caroline Amies, lighting by Patrick Woodroffe.
During the run Brian Hibbard took over a 'Jake', and Simon John Foster took over as 'Elwood'.
1st West End Revival - David Leland version - 1994
Previewed 19 September 1994, Opened 21 September 1994, Closed 29 October 1994 at the Comedy Theatre (now Harold Pinter Theatre)
The cast featured Mark White as 'Jake', and Giles New as 'Elwood', with Doreen Chanter, Paul Murphy, and Mary Pearce.
Directed by David Leland, with choreography by Carole Todd, designs by Caroline Amies, and lighting by Patrick Woodroffe.
Simon John Foster was originally scheduled to play the role of 'Elwood' but unfortunately he broke his foot playing the role on tour the week before the West End opening. Foster did though make a 'guest' appearance at the Opening Night.
This was a 'restaged' version, directed by David Leland, of the 1991 production, which came into the West End for a limit run as part of a regional tour. The show's title was expanded to include 'Official' to mark the fact that this production now had the official approval of both Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi's widow, Judy.
2nd West End Revival - David Leland version - 1996
Previewed 9 December 1996, Opened 11 December 1996, Closed 18 January 1997 at the Apollo Theatre
The cast featured Brad Henshaw as 'Jake', and Simon John Foster as 'Elwood', with Ambrose, Ronnie Dangerfieid, and Michelle Dixon.
3rd West End Revival - David Leland version - 2001
Previewed 25 April 2001, Opened 2 May 2001, Closed 13 October 2001 at the Whitehall Theatre (now Trafalgar Theatre)
The cast featured Brad Henshaw as 'Jake', Simon John Foster as 'Elwood', and Antonio Fargas, with Mike Henry, Alana Maria, and Joe Speare.
Directed by David Leland, with choreography by Michael King, sets by Ken Watts, costumes by Dianne Gardner, and lighting by Patrick Woodroffe.
This production, completely re-staged and re-designed, featured as a 'special guest star' Antonio Fargas, best known for playing 'Huggy Bear' in the 1970s TV series Starsky & Hutch.
Xmas Special - Joshua Mumby Version - 2015
Previewed 26 November 2015, Opened 3 December 2015, Closed 10 January 2016 at the Arts Theatre
The cast featured David Kristopher-Brown as 'Jake', Joshua Mumby as 'Elwood', and Simon Ray Harvey as 'Ray Charles'/'James Brown', with Hannah Kee, Sasi Strallen, and T'Shan Williams.
Directed by Joshua Mumby, and choreography by Lily Howkins.
Summer Special - Joshua Mumby Version - 2017
Previewed 18 July 2017, Opened 21 July 2017, Closed 26 August 2017 at The Matcham Room at the London Hippodrome
The cast featured David Kristopher-Brown as 'Jake', Joshua Mumby as 'Elwood', and Arnold Mabhena as 'Ray Charles'/'James Brown', with Helen Hart, and Hannah Kee.
Directed by Joshua Mumby, and choreography by Lily Howkins.