From Nutbush gospel singer to Queen of Rock – Tina Turner’s starry rise to music diva via domestic violence and emotional abuse is a well-charted tale.
In Soul Sister the story is somewhat bizarrely translated into a comic strip projected onto a back screen alongside other images from the late-50s to mid-80s. This device rather devalues the human drama of the stormy yet creative relationship between innovative musician Ike Turner and Tina from the moment she auditioned for his band as Anna Mae Bullock in 1956 to her resurrection as one of the great and powerful 80s vocal performers.
But Pete Brooks and John Miller’s lively jukebox musical is not about the narrative or clunky exposition. It is about one of music’s great icons and is here brought exuberantly to life by Jenny Fitzpatrick, who may not give the finest impression of Tina ever seen, but injects her own vitality and sense of tribute in a show dripping with pure soul.
And as the show gathers speed and the audience gradually embraced and encouraged to clap, holler and join in the words (unsurprisingly they are standing and whooping by the end) this actress displays energy and star quality through such hits as Proud Mary, What’s Love Got to Do With It, Addicted to Love, and The Best.
One of the most exciting moments of the production was when Tina started singing the classic River Deep, Mountain High in Phil Spector’s recording studio, only for the set to open up onto a dynamic live performance of the piece.
Chris Tummings, the better actor in the company for all it is needed, makes Ike a charismatic character, never overlooking his failings, but reminding us of his positive aspects, and there’s some impressive support from the girls playing the famous Ikettes.
High praise too for musical director Rob Eckland and the band, proving the worth of talented musicians over backing tracks.
This rollercoaster ride through Ike and Tina Turner’s life might lack narrative cohesion, but it’s a worthy celebration of two great and hard-hitting musicians who did so much to affect the musical landscape in the USA.