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Has the Jukebox musical found its niche with Soul Sister?

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With the Spice Girls musical struggling to live up to it's title - Viva Forever - you might think that the jukebox musical has had it's day. But We Will Rock You continues to pack em in, as does Mamma Mia! Jersey Boys is not going anywhere quite yet and there is also a new kid on the block - which follows the format of the Four Seasons hit.

Soul Sister had a very short season in the West End as a filler, following the Sunshine Boys. It has been touring solidly since and arrives at the Lowry in June. I caught it recently in Sheffield and can see why it's giving jukebox musicals a good name. Following the biographical format does it some favours. The shoe-horned format is looking very tired and reached an all time nadir when Ben Elton attempted to find somewhere for the song "Sailing" in the Rod Stewart musical - Tonight's The Night. We've also seen Can't Smile Without You disappear without trace.

Once Tina Turner decided to retire, producers must have thought - musical time and why not? Her life story is a really interesting one to tell on stage and was well documented in the book I, Tina and the Touchstone film - Tina: What's Love Got To With It? Then there's the hits - "River Deep, Mountain High", "The Best", "Private Dancer" and many more.

The stage set in the show is based around many video projections, the cast is small but perfectly formed, the band feature in the show heavily - which adds that feeling of a live concert and the awful megamix is absent - replaced with a fitting tribute to the great lady herself - giving the audience a chance to shut up and dance. It works wonderfully.

Sure, the book is sometimes clumsy and when audience members applaud Tina for fighting back against Ike, you realise it has the subtlety of a panto. But there is still something magical at play here and the performances are a major part of this show's success. Emi Wokoma is simply sensational and takes the role with both hands and won't let go. She works the audience a treat and refuses to 'impersonate' Tina - yet she slowly becomes her before your very eyes. The Ikettes are all terrific too. As for Chris Tummings - he avoids a cartoon version of Ike, even though the writing paints him that way. He manages to bring charm to the role and the audience rewarded him on the night I attended with lots of applause.

The final section of the show is the reason why people pay to see back catalogue musicals. The concert section is excellent and means that everyone can get up out of their seats and really enjoy themselves.

Some critics have been really cruel to this show, but I can see why it's a hit up and down the country, as despite the odd flaw - Soul Sister gives jukebox musicals a good name.

Soul Sister is at the Lowry from 3 - 8 June.


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