wed 21/11/2018

Soul Sister, Savoy Theatre | reviews, news & interviews

Soul Sister, Savoy Theatre

Soul Sister, Savoy Theatre

Mega-watt lead dominates slight Tina Turner jukebox musical

'Soul Sister': Emi Wokoma as Tina Turner, side-stepping verisimilitude in favour of modestyAll photos: Marilyn Kingwill

The fright wig is instantly recognisable. Even with her back turned, it’s obviously Tina Turner on stage. Except it isn’t. It’s actress Emi Wokoma playing the singer in a performance virtually guaranteed to turn her into a star. Casualty and EastEnders will soon be distant memories for Wokoma. Good for her, maybe, but she’s the best thing about the otherwise wafer-thin Soul Sister.

Soul Sister could have been a game of two halves. The first on the Ike and Tina partnership, his abuse of her and their divorce; the second beginning with her 1983 comeback and solo career. Instead, the solo years are tacked on, briefly at the start of Act One – and then at the end of Act Two, mainly as a non-stop performance of some of the hits. The story is well known and was dealt with in the 1987 book I, Tina and the 1993 film Tina - What's Love Got to do With it. So Soul Sister concentrates on the music. Just as well, as the dialogue rarely transcends the level of:

Soul Sister Emi Wokoma & Chris  Tummings Ike: “How you feeling?”

Tina: “Good”.

Ike: “Real good”.

Similarly, the staging is pretty minimal with back projections supplemented by the odd chair or suitcase as a prop. The band are ranged across the back, and characters pass in front off them, while backing singers The Ikettes zip back and forth.

The drama - such as it is, in the moments between the songs - only takes off from close to the end of Act One after Chris Tummings’ philandering Ike is advised by one of his band to “keep your zipper done up” (pictured above, Chris Tummings as Ike Turner with Emi Wokoma as Tina Turner). Later, in about three sentences, Ike is told all about that thing called feminism. Tummings does his best playing a man reduced to the broad strokes of a cartoon character. When first arriving on stage for Act Two, he’s loudly sniffing. Watch out, cocaine is about. Amusingly, the guitarist/actor playing a band member called Charlie doubles as a character billed as “drug dealer”.

In truth, before Ike’s real-life metamorphosis into an all-round monster, the actual story isn’t that interesting and hardly an atypical one for rock. The Ike and Tina Turner Revue were another struggling band with a smattering of truly great singles and a brace of minor hits, trying to reach out beyond a black-only audience. A break came when producer Phil Spector decided to feature Tina on lead vocal for “River Deep, Mountain High”. Ike made sure the single was credited to Ike and Tina Turner. Earlier, Ike’d said he was trying to “out-hustle the hustlers”. The perhaps-parsimonious minimalism of the stage production extends to the portrayal of Spector – his voice is heard, but he’s not seen. For the sequence of Tina recording “River Deep, Mountain High” it’s possible to argue that Soul Sister further short changes the audience. At the actual session, Tina stripped to her bra. Verisimilitude is side-stepped in favour of modesty, and Wokoma does not.

She doesn’t need to though. Wokoma exudes power and raw energy. Harnessing the elemental core of the singer, she’s also mastered her lurching, crab-wise stage moves. If you can mentally airbrush out the wigs, Wokoma doesn’t look like Tina. She doesn’t even sound that much like her. Yet her “Shake a Tail Feather” shakes like an earthquake. “Proud Mary” is an avalanche. “What’s Love Gotta do With it” – which got the audience to their feet – is properly anthemic. Soul Sister does the business. But it does so solely because of Wokoma.

Watch Emi Wokoma performing Tina Turner's "The Best"


 

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