Soul Sister, Savoy Theatre, London
Wednesday 29 August 2012
There’s one overwhelming reason to check out this dramatically rather run-of-the-mill bio-musical, and that is to savour Emi Wokoma’s phenomenal performance as Tina Turner.
This young artiste is sweeter of countenance than the original and her musical tone may lack some of the earthiness and grit. But the sensuous drive and rhythmic command of her powerhouse voice are enough to make the hairs on the back of your neck follow the example of those electrocuted-looking locks in Tina’s trademark lion-mane wigs.
Wokoma’s evocation of the stilletto-heeled stomps and struts and sexily feral stage presence is uncanny, but she has clearly approached the role in the spirit of an actress rather than an impressionist, empathetically working from the inside out.
It’s a pity she doesn’t have a better book to engage with. As illustrated by the somewhat sanitised 1993 movie, What’s Love Got to Do with It, the tempestuous marriage of Ike and Tina Turner possesses a lot of dramatic mileage – both in Star is Born terms as the Svengali who harnessed her talent turns into a controlling, jealous, coke-snorting wife-beater; and as an inspirational saga of female empowerment, as Tina finds Buddhism and the strength of will to leave her abuser and survive through the wilderness years to a triumphant solo career.
This show – slickly directed by Pete Brooks and Bob Eaton and co-devised by Brooks and John Miller – takes us from St Louis in 1956, where a winningly gap-toothed teenage Tina in bobby sox and a Sunday-best coat first auditions for Ike, to Tina in glorious mid-Eighties comeback. Amongst her retrospective remarks on her marriage, Tina notes that Billie Holiday once said that you should never get involved with a black musician, because the music industry will have shafted him and he will take out his frustrations on you. But as with the footage of Martin Luther King, Kennedy, Nixon et al that flashes up in boxes on the cartoon-strip designs, this attempt at historical context feels underdeveloped – and fails to give any complex shading to Chris Tummings’s hissably cocksure and sleazy Ike.
The sizeable compensations are a fantastic onstage band, a charmingly raunchy posse of Ikettes (whose dance moves are wittily choreographed to keep track of changing tastes), and the superb Ms Wokoma, who socks us with hit after hit – “Proud Mary”, a beautifully slow and anguished version of “Help”, “River Deep – Mountain High” and, inevitably, “Simply the Best”, in which she shakes her chassis so hard that beads fly off her mini-dresses.
To 29 September (0207 400 1257); then touring
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