In a West End already saturated by jukebox shows like Rock of Ages, it’s not necessarily a compliment to say that Soul Sister could transfer there tomorrow. But this one - far better than Thriller - Live but not as good as Jersey Boys - is an effective biographical tribute to Tina Turner that also revisits the territory previously explored in the biopic What’s Love Got to Do with It of an infinitely troubled relationship with her controlling, abusive husband Ike Turner to give it an added human interest resonance.
Emi Wokoma (Tina Turner) in Soul Sister at Hackney Empire, London Photo: Tristram Kenton
In the song that gave the film its title, one refrain asks, “What’s love but a second-hand emotion?” One of the pitfalls of re-telling this story onstage is that it’s full of second-hand emotions, and John Miller and Pete Brooks’s script doesn’t earn our respect or command our interest quite as fully as it should.
Yet that is never the point of shows like this whose primary purpose is to offer a platform for her endlessly familiar hits, from Private Dancer and I Can’t Stand the Rain to River Deep Mountain High and The Best, that fully engage an audience in a trip down memory lane. And thanks to the vividly commanding performance of Emi Wokoma as Tina, who summonses her brassy, Amazonian sense of attack yet also embodies the personal frailty that lay underneath it, it’s like a younger version of her is back in the room.
Bob Eaton’s smooth, efficient production has the familiar tropes of the genre, including a giant videowall filled with retro graphics and the customary finale that has the audience on its feet.