This is a big, vivid show with a blistering central performance by Emi Wokoma as Tina Turner. If you’ve ever appreciated strong soul music, and prefer theatre when it comes as rock concert, you’ll love this.
In 1956 in St Louis, Anna Mae Bullock, aged just 17, in her Sunday-best coat and ankle socks, auditions for Ike Turner, ace guitarist and band-leader.
Turner realises this huge-voiced girl is going to transform his fortunes, Anna Mae is renamed Tina and falls in love with Ike. Thus begins a 20-year partnership in which the pair and Ike’s band, The Kings of Rhythm, become the hardest-touring outfit in show business.
Against a backdrop of racial segregation and the growth of civil rights, and after years of graft, their brand of powerful rock ‘n’ soul is recognised by the white world and they receive their dues.
In the process Tina, a startlingly confident and compelling performer, suffers Ike’s numerous infidelities and his fist for the sake of their great craft. After she leaves him, and a period in the wilderness, in 1985 she comes back for an extraordinary second career with a string of wildly popular hits.
The Hackney Empire is a grand colourful palace and in its scale of production, the show rises to the venue. The script is functional, and the story largely told through projected video backdrops in graphic-novel style.
An excellent band take pride of place (plaudits to youthful Sean Green, musical director). The Ikettes are beautifully portrayed and add heaps of sexiness and charm, and Turner is very convincingly played by Chris Tummings as a cocksure and unstable master of his art.
However, the show belongs to Emi Wokoma who burns up the stage with charisma, in the trademark short showgirl dresses achieving an uncanny copy of real Tina’s distinctive moves, and belting through a jaw-droppingly good repertoire of songs, from dirty R&B to crowd-pleasing pop.
I was a little disappointed that my favourite Ike and Tina number, "Nutbush City Limits" was not included but it would be churlish to quibble when Soul Sister is a powerful show that looks destined for enormous success.