Review Round-up: Heads Tina-Turning for Wokoma's Soul Sister
By Editorial Staff
• 28 Aug 2012
• West End
Tina Turner jukebox musical Soul Sister
opened to press last week (23 August) at the Savoy Theatre. Weaving Tina's greatest hits into the story of her metoeric pop career, and disastrous relationship with Ike Turner, the show stars Emi Wokoma and Chris Tummings in the lead roles.
Just when you think they're running out of old rock stars to create yet another necrophiliac West End compilation show, along comes this weak-kneed, sycophantic Tina Turner tribute… but with a blistering, knock-out star performance from unknown Emi Wokoma… She sings like a dirty angel possessed, miraculously gifted as a vocalist, charting that unique progress from Gospel and blues to soul and the hard-hitting rock of the Stones' "Honky Tonk Woman" and "Addicted to Love" … The second act falters badly… so by the time they stop all that nonsense and go back to the songs, we are mighty relieved… Sean Green's musical direction is faultless, and ends with a sensational version of "Simply the Best", Wokoma… descending on the audience like a viper in a sheath of silver glitter. The audience, surprise surprise, are on their feet.
Bookended by Emi Wokoma's Tina Turner reflecting on her rocky road to success, this musical about the megastar's marriage to Ike and rise to stardom comes across as a simplified rerun of Turner biopic 'What's Love Got to Do with It'. It boasts a stunning central performance but lacks substance... Vigorous choreography and a great live band recreate the atmosphere of smoky bars and stadiums. And Emi Wokoma tears up the stage as Turner, raising the show's quality tenfold. Whether belting out 'Proud Mary' or 'Honky Tonk Woman', she distills the singer's distinctive growl and hip-swivelling moves into a performance of star-making quality... Stripping out the personal elements and letting the magnificent Wokoma barnstorm her way through the set list would be more fun, and more honest.
The words "a star is born" can be hazardous, but Emi Wokoma, who plays Tina Turner in this "bio-musical", is blessed with star quality and a voice that's rawly emotional yet also regal... Wokoma can certainly model a little sparkly dress, and it's clear she has carefully studied Turner's mannerisms and facial expressions... As the philandering and sometimes violent Ike, Chris Tummings has the right mix of cockiness and paranoia. But Wokoma aside, the band impresses most: Sean Green's six-piece is tight and funky... The script, by John Miller and Pete Brooks, is workmanlike. There are moments of pathos, but the exposition judders along... As jukebox musicals go, Soul Sister is meaty. Yet the story never soars.
...Wokoma is amazing, a strong-bodied yet vulnerable goddess. Singing fearlessly, and almost continually, she does a fine imitation of Tina Turner -- that teetering sideways lean, those sexy washer-woman arms -- but her performance goes way beyond the "Tonight, Matthew, I will be..." of Stars in Their Eyes... the linking material is of secondary importance -- and quality.... Soul Sister is not designed for a bunch of self-conscious first nighters. It is not for somebody like me, who turns into Miss Marple when required to stand and clap in a theatre. It is for an audience that is willing to give, in order to receive, a seriously good time: they will not be disappointed.
Arwa Haider Metro ★★★
...though this British production lacks the gloss of 1993 Hollywood biopic What's Love Got to Do With It, it certainly blasts Tina-style va-va-voom into the West End. That's largely thanks to splendidly fierce leading lady Emi Wokoma, who reprises her role as the Tennessee ingénue-turned superstar vocalist, following Soul Sister's acclaimed run at the Hackney Empire... Not as successful is the flighty narrative, which struggles with some heavyweight plot twists. including domestic abuse, Tina's conversion to Buddhism and her solo comeback... Some of the set-list omissions are puzzling: no "Nutbush City Limits", "Let's Stay Together" or "We Don't Need Another Hero" (promised in the programme). But that still leaves plenty of knockout material for a wellheeled stormer.
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