BWW Reviews: SOUL SISTER, Savoy Theatre, Aug 23
Soul Sister is a show based on the 'music, life and times of Ike and Tina Turner'. Put together by John Miller and Peter Brooks, it is a night of upbeat 50s, 60s, 70s and 80s tunes, linked by scenes about Tina Turner's rise to fame, from her discovery by Ike Turner to eventual relationship with him and up until her glitzy solo success.
It's not new territory - while a giant projection of Tina (Emi Wokoma) constantly tells us that the stories we know 'only scratch the surface' of her and Ike (Chris Tummings), the action doesn't scratch much deeper. Tina and Ike have the same arguments over and over - he is an old-school guy who expects his woman to be faithful while he is anything but, along with a large dollop of short man syndrome - and while the two leads do what they can with a less-than-convincing, repetitive script, most of the acting feels stilted.
Scenes move on quickly and fluidly, but what seems like laziness in the design limit the set to a series of comic book-style projections and pre-recorded videos bludgeoning us with information from the date to the civil rights movement and, occasionally, a 'meanwhile, on the roof...' type scene-setter. This didn't work for me; it was distracting and the two pieces of set constantly crossing over for scene changes often got in the way of the projections behind.
The show also sinned with several counts of audience participation (shudder) plus one whiny Beatles cover backed up with some unexplained footage of soldiers (I remain unsure what this had to do with the story).
Chris Tummings is a highlight as Ike, the only actor who seemed truly at home in his retro costume, southern accent and bad boy demeanour. The band also deserve huge credit - the sound they make is big, brash and funky, and the latter third of the show (which essentially abandons all plot in favour of Wokoma belting out Turner's greatest hits) is the best section.
The crowd dances, whoops and sings along to undeniably great songs like What's Love Got to Do With It, River Deep Mountain High and The Best - the 'gig' aspect of this show is its strength, and Emi Wokoma puts her all into her vocals.
But the problem with all shows about musical icons is that 'goosebump' moment when you first hear them sing never quite comes off; just as with the Eva Cassidy show Over the Rainbow and Michael Jackson musical Thriller - Live, even the most talented performers are never going to raise the sort of tingle the original did.
Still, the Britain's Got Talent crowd loves a big note and a bootyshake, and the audience ended the night on their feet (even though a billed encore of We Don't Need Another Hero failed to materialise). The concept isn't balanced enough, however - it fails to deliver a meaningful interpretation of Ike and Tina's relationship, to be a completely awe-inspiring tribute act or even that positive a celebration of the Turners' achievements in the changing decades they dominated the charts.
Soul Sister is lazy in its production and writing and messy in parts of its performance, but Wokoma is a strong performer and die-hard fans of Tina Turner will enjoy this opportunity to see her music performed live.
Image: Alastair Muir