Soul Sister at the BGET
October 28, 2013
Billie Holiday once said; “Never get involved with a black man in music. He will never succeed like he deserves to and he will take it out on his woman.” A point Ike Turner would go on to horribly illustrate in his treatment of Anna Mae Bullock aka Tina Turner, his wife, muse and punching bag. After the bastardisation of their life story- and life work, that was What’s Love Got To Do With It, a 1993 movie which demonised the godfather of Rock and Roll and victimised its jungle queen (to the disgust of both), comes this jukebox musical that packs just under 30 years into two and a bit hours, which uses a comic book aesthetic to Disnefiy the brutal hardship they both endured.
What it does possess though is a leading lady, Emi Wokoma, who is as close as we are ever going to get to experiencing what Tina Turner was like in her prime. And while, as a piece of theatre, it skirts dangerously close to slapstick in its handling of drug and domestic abuse, as musical tribute it is an unbeatable experience.
The curtain opens on Private Dancer performed at Tina’s infamous comeback concert at The Ritz in 1984 and it’s all there. The wig. The legs. The stance. The smile. And as the show progresses, moving back through time to her first audition for Ike Turner and skimming through the high and lowlights of a turbulent personal and professional life, Wokoma does more than imitate the Tina we know and worship. She develops her.
From the pitchy if impressive backing singer who struggled with Ike Turner’s style on You Know I Love You to the spine tingling growl of A Fool in Love (we ain’t in Sunday school no more, Toto) she captures the growing professionalism (It’s Going to Work out Fine), confidence (Proud Mary) and sexuality (River Deep, Mountain High) of an artist, before solidifying it into the calculated, awkward middle aged sexuality for which she would make her millions.
The sultry blues of I Smell Trouble, she nails. The crunching R&B of The Revue’s earlier hits she grinds with increasing assurance. She embodies the physicality of an artist who knows how to work it, demanding R-E-S-P-E-C-T as she shakes her tail feather, whipping everyone, from the stalls to the gods, into a full blown frenzy, hocking up the honk in a four track encore of Tina’s earliest solo hits.
Not even the queen herself managed such vocal dexterity in the course of one evening. Whenever she revisited her earlier Revue hits in concert, she lathered them in that horrible, driving Rock and Roll that lined her coffers. But backed by a terrific backing band and the exuberant “Ikettes” here, the varying styles, both musical and aesthetic are captured in ways that satisfy the pallets of both mainstream and resolute fans.
Ike Turner is less well served. It worthily attempts to take back his name, to show you more than the coked up boogie man portrayed by Laurence Fishbourne. But too much of this is done through Tina’s light voiced reflections, again on screen, leaving Chris Tumming to mouth deluded, paranoid and poorly penned spiels on feminism, rather than giving him any opportunity to really show us the charm that initially attracted Tina and so many others.
His violence is sanitized to such an extent that the straw that broke her back, the infamous fight in Dallas, actually raised the roof, with shouts of “Go on, Tina” from the mostly middle aged mammies in the crowd, acting more like over enthused GAA fans than horrified audience members. Tina’s suicide attempt was also played for laughs, mocking the destructive pull of his addictions. While his own redemption after his prison spell, where he won two Grammy’s and had his work sampled by artists like Salt-n-Peppa and Jurassic Five, was ignored completely.
Tina, more than most, made her name on her electrifying live performance and in this area Soul Sister excels. Emi Wokoma’s explosive presence makes this a must see for soul fans while the sheer power of every part of the delivery more than makes up for the shakier dramatic elements.