Arts: Pop - One-way track to nowhere
SOUL TRAIN VICTORIA PALACE THEATRE LONDON
Monday 28 June 1999
Soul Train can't decide whether it wants to be worthy (the programme attempts to be, with a useful factual run-through) or just a finger-snappin', toe-tappin' revue; in the end, it settles for fun. That's fine if you want a karaoke night. These are top numbers, after all, songs with which you can't really fail. But soul deserves some sweat, blood and tears, the stuff it was born from, and this show's so devoid of feeling - not one moment gets the hair standing up on your neck - that it might as well be the Jorvik Experience, a good imitation that trundles past.
We kick off with a revivalist meeting and Danny John-Jules (Cat from Red Dwarf) explaining the beginnings of soul ("gospel groups all over the Southern States called it the work of the devil..."). That's the start and end of the narrative thread. Minutes later we're "Under The Boardwalk" and from then on it's medley time, one number segue-ing into another, all just a beat too fast.
The performers are polished but, though there are bits of comic business, none has a character to develop. With no story and no linking scenes, who could get that involved?
For a walk-through, it's quite well done. The guys leap balletically across the stage in their sharkskin suits, the girls pout in Tina Turner- style sequined dresses. Vocals are capable too - C Gerod Harris gets his tenor to the roof for Jackie Wilson's "I Get The Sweetest Feeling" and The Stylistics' "You Make Me Feel Brand New". There's an anachronistic interjection of "When Will I See You Again?" to introduce a real star, The Three Degrees' Sheila Ferguson, and Sheila gives her all to the numbers she does, though these include "Living in America", one of the ugliest songs ever written (but Sheila's a good sport, shakin' her body in platforms and flowing Charles II wig). Right after this, we get the evening's meaningful moment, Jason Pennycooke delivering a troubled "Why Can't We Live Together?" as video footage of Ku Klux Klan maniacs, Martin Luther King and scenes of segregation flicker about a darkened stage. It did work; a bit more thoughtful stuff like this wouldn't have gone amiss.
But the second half provides more crowd-pleasers, though it might've been cooler to have, say, Marvin Gaye's "Mercy, Mercy Me" instead of tired old "Sexual Healing". This wasn't about imagination; it was easy nostalgia inexpensively staged. Soul's for dancing to, not sitting down to watch, but the audience seemed happy, though not one of the numbers could hope to match the original. The thing I missed most, I guess, was heart. Or, though it's glib to say it, soul.
To 28 Aug. Booking: 0171-834 1317
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