Soul Sistas
Mayfield Dinner Theatre (DoubleTree by Hilton West Edmonton)
Sept. 5 to Oct. 29, 2017 review by GRAHAM HICKS

Hang on!

Taking in Soul Sistas at the Mayfield Dinner Theatre is like hopping into a musical Lamborghini on a race track with no speed limit.

Breathless!  Exhilarating!  Exciting, and, dare one say it, probably as close to the originals (Tina Turner and Aretha Franklin) as is humanly possible.

Tiffany Deriveau as Tina Turner and Tara Jackson as Aretha Franklin are far more than impersonators – they get inside their characters. In song, dance and spirit they channel these two super-stars of American soul, rhythm & blues, and, in Tina’s case, rock ‘n’ roll.

Older patrons of the Mayfield Dinner Theatre, be not afraid. While the show is full of energy and enthusiasm and celebrates familiar music from the ‘60s to the ‘80s, it is presented within reasonable decibel levels.

Soul Sistas is not so much a musical as two separate tributes: In the first half, the three back-up singers – all tremendous singers and dancers  in their own right – tell the abbreviated story of Aretha Franklin’s life between the songs, and in the second half, it’s Tina Turner’s turn.

Along the way, all the great hits of these two contemporary musical giants are played note- and word- perfect with as much razzle-dazzle as the original peformances of the two divas at the time. 

The two star performers  are backed by the crackerjack 7-man on-stage band led by the Mayfield Dinner Theatre director/musical director/keyboardist Van Wilmott, and, of course, get fantastic support from the three back-up singers (Jameela McNeil, Matt Nethersole and Antonette Rudder) who also provide the narration and dancing expertise and boundless energy.

Aretha’s story is far less complicated than Tina’s – she grew up in a religious family, her dad a famous preacher who despite his fame was a solid, proud and supportive father. The dad recognized Aretha’s God-given talent, and did what he could to encourage her on a rock-solid career. 

Jackson has a voice and a presence that makes her a natural to play Aretha: Close your eyes during the hits -  Respect, Natural Woman, Say a Little Prayer etc. You are hearing Aretha.

The second half is all about Tina – her growing up in poverty in a dysfunctional family, an extraordinary singer and performer exploited by her ex-husband Ike Turner in their Ike and Tina band, her getting out of the marriage and taking her four children with her in her mid-40s, then turning out one of the block-buster albums of the ‘80s in Private Dancer,  with its iconic What’s Love Got To Do With It. 

Not only is Tina's voice and interpretation brought to the Mayfield stage.  Tiffany Deriveau is an extraordinary dancer who has Turner’s sophisticated full-throttle strut ‘n’ staccato/ shimmy ‘n’ shake dance moves down pat. As so do the back-up dancers - the routines are fabulous.

Enough can’t be said about these two musical actors plus the three back-ups, all of whom move in and out of various rolls and narrations between the smokin’ dance numbers. 

This band, led by Wilmott, is as good a group of session players as could be assembled in Western Canada.  As they have done so often over the years at Mayfield Dinner Theatre musicals, they seamlessly support the up-front performers as if they’d been playing as an ensemble for years and years. 

If I have a problem with this show, it’s with us, the audience.

How come we – the audience – are not up on our feet for most of the show, clapping and dancing with the volcano of energy flowing off the stage? Why isn’t there an instant standing ovation at the end of a show of this calibre, rather than loud, but muted applause?

I understand and respect that the dinner theatre audience is, generally speaking, an older crowd for whom it may be physically difficult to get up and dance, or even rise for a standing ovation.  And everybody is digesting the Mayfield’s famous buffet.

But it must be a difficult for the band and performers to be working so hard, creating so much energy that is only gently returned from the audience. 

It is what it is.  I do hope, as Soul Sistas moves into its run, that more and more folks who just love this fabulous, rich and so energetic music come to the show and give a little love back to the performers!