Review: Soul Sister @ New Theatre
Few would deny that Tina Turner is a goddess in popular music.
She is one of the most famous African-Americans alive and is an inspiration to women everywhere. She is highly respectable just for the amount of trouble she had to endure in her life and walking away from it with her head held high. But that looming presence over everything she did... I am of course talking about her husband, Ike Turner.
This show basically details Tina meeting Ike, them singing together, falling in love, getting married and having kids. The rest of the story is an unsavoury tale involving wife beating, drugs and Buddhism (I had no idea she became one). He even thought up her stage name, since Anna May Bullock did not take to his fancy. Thus began his 'ownership' over her in every way possible. I dreaded the first handling of his attack and the audience seemed unsettled when he did so. The audience even applauded when she hits him back for the first time. He then took off his belt and was rearing up to strike again, as she held him back with a wooden chair. It was reminiscent of the famous whipping of the schoolmaster scene in Nicholas Nickleby, in which the audience gave a standing ovation at performances.
Tina's songs make up most of the show, the rest being filled with little scenarios of her backstage life, in hotel rooms, on tour etc. The set for this musical was like a character of its own. The huge screens at the back of the stage displayed an array of information. They kept the audience on track with the years and locations of the events taking place, as well as the backdrop of American history happening simultaneously. At times, it put me in mind of a graphic novel in its execution with rotoscope in use at times and Tina talking to us on a TV screen. The sliding screens also added a lot of allusion to the show. The characters almost seemed to appear out of nowhere and disappear seamlessly, all via the use of these screens. A real nice touch.
Our Tina for the evening was Emi Wokoma. Her relentless stage presence made you think you were watching the real Tina. While Chris Tummings as Ike also sang and played the guitar and wasn't scared to show Ike's true character. He may have had a roguish charm and humour, but it's hard to think of Ike Turner without thinking of assault. He abused her for years and couldn't realise that Tina was more important than him and the band. He may have been a musical innovator, but people just don't remember him for that.
This is proven via a phone call from the famous record producer and songwriter, Phil Spector, voiced by Adam Nash. The name may sound familiar since Spector is now in prison for murder, looking rather dishevelled in the preceding court cases a few years ago. His strangely geeky Jewish voice here explains he only wants Tina to record for him, much to the frustration, leading to acceptance from Ike.
Tina's songs are going back some decades now but they still have great replay value today. I struggled to think of many of her songs before the show. Simply The Best is the one I know most. The others recognisable classics are Private Dancer (which opened the show), River Deep - Mountain High and What's Love Got To Do With It? (also the name for the film detailing her life) amongst others. She wore her famous costumes such as the slightly frilly red number and at the very beginning and end, the outrageous 'I've just been electrocuted' hairstyle. The band and backing singers/dancers were also a great tonic to the show. The moves in the dancing were delicious. I love the Twist and found myself doing the moves a few times. I will let off the keyboard player who attempted an American accent at one point in the show. Some of the rotating lighting blinded us a few times. A great deal of it was used for the show such as the lamps in the boxes and extra ones above the stage.
For a Monday night audience, they sure were down to party. Most of us were on our feet by the end, clapping frantically and whooping. This extra night (most shows start on a Tuesday) proves just how popular this show will be. It's enjoyable to see a jukebox musical that actually details the story of the singer featured. Most seem to border off into some absurd story a la Mamma Mia! or We Will Rock You. Perhaps some singers lead more interesting lives...
This was one hell of a show. You don't even need to be a fan of her to enjoy such a night out. There where moments that were purely electrifying.
It may sound cheesy, but Soul Sister is simply the best.
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