It's basically Tina Turner, The Musical.
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With a career spanning over 50 years, record sales in excess of 180 million and an enduring iconography, Tina Turner is often referred to as the queen of Rock’nRoll. But it’s the story behind the music that is the most compelling aspect of Tina’s legacy and it’s a story that has made her a symbol of survival to many across the world. This story is brought to life on stage in Soul Sister, the new musical inspired by the life and times of Ike and Tina Turner, now playing at Hackney Empire.
The curtain rises on the iconic silhouette of Tina complete with sequin mini dress and her trademark shag hairstyle as the band play the intro to one of her biggest hits Private Dancer. It’s 1984 and Tina is sat backstage at The New York Ritz theatre as she prepares to take the stage for the show that will cement her return to music after a long period of absence. As she reminisces on the turbulent events of her life and career that have lead to this point some clever staging tricks transport us back in time to 1956, the year Tina first arrives in East St Louis.
Set to the backdrop of 50’s/60’s Motown and Rhythm and Blues the milestone events in Tina’s life are all played out, most prominently her first meeting with Ike Turner, the man responsible for kick starting her career in music.
Through the years we see Tina’s look and sound evolve as the decades pass. The highs and devastating lows of her chaotic and abusive relationship with Ike, the changing political landscape and the start of the civil rights movement are all depicted with each song from Tina’s repertoire acting as a snap shot in time.
Emi Wokoma is impressive in the role of Tina and her vocal ability, range and tone are so reminiscent of Tina that you could be forgiven for thinking the lady herself had just stepped onto stage. She manages to play Tina not only with musical conviction but also portrays her evolution from the shy naive young girl who steps of the bus in East St Louis to a woman who has commanded huge audiences, survived relentless domestic abuse and became a pioneer starting from scratch and launching her solo career at the age of 45 with nothing but her name.
Chris Tummings gives a convincing and balanced portrayal of the controversial Ike Turner. Chris channels the characters violent and severe outbursts but peppers them with well observed moments of weakness and paralyzing insecurity as Ike watches his protégée’s talent eclipse his own. Supporting cast members come in the form of the brilliant Ikettes and Tina’s long-standing and incredibly funky band who share every step of the journey with her.
As the musical draws to a close, with arguably one of Tina’s biggest hits Simply The Best, we see the true longevity and variety of her musical catalogue. Classics such as What’s Love Got to Do with It, Proud Mary, Private Dancer and River Deep Mountain High are all on the set and are brought to life by a talented cast of actors and musicians. Whether you’re a fan of rock n roll, a fan of soul or just love drama, this is a show not to be missed.
Soul Sister will be playing at Hackney Empire until Sat 5 May 2012.
Words: Chris O’Gorman