Soul Sister (review)

Soul Sister. Photo by  Marilyn Kingwill.
Soul Sister. Photo by Marilyn Kingwill.

IF someone had tried to pitch Tina Turner’s life story as a work of fiction publishers would have called it fanciful and overly sentimental.

But truth is stranger than fiction and her remarkable story is the stuff of legends.

Shy 16-year-old Anna Mae Bullock, the daughter of a Baptist minister ran away from Nutbush, Tennessee, for the bright lights and a singing career in the big city. What she found was fame and fortune and its nightmarish flip side – drugs, adultery, domestic violence and a life dominated by her overbearing, quick-tempered husband.

The diva’s remarkable and story has now been turned into an electrifying musical. Soul Sister exploded onto the stage at Milton Keynes Theatre this week taking no prisoners. It’s high octane entertainment that comes up through the floor and has everyone singing and dancing by the curtain fall.

Tina is played by relative newcomer Emi Wokoma who gives a dynamite performance as the star. She wisely doesn’t try to emulate the singer but belts out the familiar songs in one powerful rendition after another.

Anna Mae went to St Louis to audition for the tempestuous Ike Turner, then fronting his own band. To say that the rest is history would do a disservice to both characters.

Ike, for all his later problems, was a talented musician, songwriter and producer who steered his band, and Tina, as she was renamed, through a time in America’s history when segregation was still rife. As he says, they were “a black act in a white world” and prejudice was strong on and off stage.

The show tries to give a warts-and-all overview of their life together but it is weak on dialogue with too much of the production given over to fancy technical trickery and tired audience participation slots.

Where it does score points is with Emi’s remarkable portrayal of the singer in action complete with an astonishing wardrobe of miniskirts, which seem to have a life of their own, shimmying and swaying to the pounding rhythms as she emulates the singer’s aggressive and energetic style of dancing. It’s exhausting just watching her.

On stage throughout is a talented band of musicians who, like the main characters, have to endure a succession of outlandish wigs and costumes as we’re taken through the 50s right up to the mid-1980s when Tina stages a solo comeback.

Emi gives a knockout performance throughout. She is simply the best and the audience were up on their feet singing along to the megahits as the show came to a spectacular finish.

Chris Tummings portrays Ike with little sympathy, taking him from an ambitious lead singer of an obscure blues band to a drug-addled adulterer and wife beater who relied on his wife’s fame for his next bag of coke. It wasn’t pretty.

Soul Sister runs until Saturday. Highly recommended. For tickets call the box office 0844 871 7652 or go online www.atgtickets.com/miltonkeynes
ANNE COX