Stars who bared their soul

Soul Sister at Hackney Empire'13/04/12'Emi Wokoma (Tina Turner) and Chris Tummings (Ike Turner)'Photo:  Marilyn Kingwill
Soul Sister at Hackney Empire'13/04/12'Emi Wokoma (Tina Turner) and Chris Tummings (Ike Turner)'Photo: Marilyn Kingwill

Ian Soutar gets the lowdown on a musical, chronicling the turbulent relationship between Ike and Tina Turner, which arrives next week

THE musical Soul Sister is inspired by the music and life of Ike and Tina Turner but given its title it is probably safe to assume that it is more about her than him.

After all Tina’s autobiography revealed him as a wife-beater as well as having a drugs problem.

The show presents a slightly different picture, according to John Miller, producer and co-writer with Pete Brooks.

“I have never seen the film, What’s Love Got to Do With It because this has been in gestation for a long time and I didn’t want to be influenced,” he says.

“I met with Ike before he died and got a sense of what he was like. I was baffled by the question if, as Tina’s book says, he was violent towards her and it started so early on, why did she stay?

“What we have tried to do is give Ike a fair crack of the whip and show he was a product of his time.

“He also had a tough life. At the age of five his father was beaten to death on the doorstep by a group of rednecks for speaking to a white woman and it had to have a bearing on everything Ike did. We can’t forget what he did but it wasn’t unusual for the time. There’s a quote from Tina that if men didn’t cheat on their women what would Tammy Wynette have to sing about?.

“When Tina wrote the book her ghostwriter pounced on that line because it was more sensational and we are led to believe Tina was distressed about the film. We do the story of Ike warts and all and with a bit of understanding of why she stayed dependent on Ike who was a puppeteer and Svengali. But it wasn’t unique, Sonny and Cher had some of that.”

Soul sister began life at the Hackney Empire, was then picked up by Bill Kenwright and enjoyed a short West End run, before touring the UK. “It’s half story and half music, much of it familiar but there will be songs which are new to people but help to tell the story and shows the journey of a romance which went wrong,” explains Miller.

The key to its success must have been finding the right person to play Tina Turner.

“We saw lots of people for the part, but as soon as Emi Wokoma walked through the door she blew everyone away,” says Miller. “She not only has the voice but the right body language. She doesn’t mimic Tina and actually is quite physically different but she inhabits the part and by the end you believe he is her.

“Chris Tummings is terrific too as Ike. You see the mood swings.”

And presumably getting the rights to the music was crucial too? “The publishers were very supportive,” says the producer. “We are the first show to be given the rights to River Deep and Mountain High which was obviously important and ends the first half of the show.

“Tina does a version of Help! And we knew that getting the rights to Beatles numbers is difficult but that wasn’t a problem either.”

Soul Sister is performed by a company of 15 on stage, many of them doubling up as actors and musicians.

The story is told in flashback from Tina Turner’s 1985 comeback concert and goes back and forth over the story and finishes with a 20-minute Tina concert.

“It’s a show which generates a lot of audience interaction,” says Miller. “Ike says some outrageous things about women’s rights which gets people going, shouting at him and even throwing things.”

In his time John Miller has been a journalist, music publisher and producer, run a recording studio and produced musical theatre. “That’s the area I’m involved in these days and I see myself as writer-creator of Soul Sister as well as wearing my producer’s hat.”

Future plans include an original musical about mobster Bugsy Siegel and his moll, Virginia Hill, and “a loose adaptation” of The Tempest set to country music. Can’t wait. In the meantime Soul Sister runs at the Lyceum Theatre from Monday to Saturday.