Etta James fans will love this show. Those that don't know who Etta James is, then the show has you in mind for this is the Etta James story.
If you aren't familiar with her name you will most certainly know her music. With such hits as 'It’s a Man’s, Man’s, Man’s World', 'I'd Rather Go Blind', 'Sugar On The Floor' and even more famously, the much anticipated closing number 'At Last'.
At Last: The Etta James Story is a brief look at the fifty-seven year musical career of the queen of R&B, punctuated by her greatest hits. Born Jamesetta Hawkins, the child of a fourteen year old mother who spent much of her time in jail, Etta had a hard upbringing. Following in her mother’s footsteps, she struggled with addiction, rehab, relationships, and the law throughout her career.
Etta’s versatile vocals covered a range of styles including rhythm and blues, rock and roll, soul, gospel and jazz. Influencing many contemporary singers such as Christina Aguilera, Amy Winehouse and Adele, Etta James was performing up until 2010 when she became ill.
Written by critically acclaimed UK author John Livings and directed by Simon Myers, At Last: The Etta James Story premiered, just a year after her death from leukaemia in January 2013, at Melbourne’s Athenaeum Theatre in February 2013. The show then toured to Sydney in April and has just closed in the Visy Theatre at the Brisbane Powerhouse.
Performing the challenging repertoire of Etta James was powerhouse Vika Bull, who did not try to embody the singer as a character, but gave more of a narrated tribute concert. Having performed alongside the likes of John Farnham, Paul Kelly, Tim Finn and The Black Sorrows, and supported international music royalty including Bob Dylan, Joe Cocker, Billy Joel, and Sting, Vika Bull is a name in the jazz music scene in her own right. Bull showed great control over her voice, giving justice to the vocal demands of twenty-four songs in the Etta James catalogue. With a massive set of lungs, Bull sang up a storm that rumbled with sass and built up to hit thunderous heights.
Bull was backed by The Essential R&B Band, a slick eight-piece ensemble including musical director and pianist John McAll, guitarist Dion Hirini, trumpeter (and narrator) Tibor Gyapjas, saxophonist Remco Keijzer, trombonist (and vocals) Ben Gillespie, bass player Chris Beker, drummer John Watson, and Anton Delecca playing woodwinds.
Apart from a dodgy microphone stand that detracted from the class act, the only other criticism lay with the text and delivery of the narration. Although well researched, it felt a little colour-by-numbers and lacked the drama and flow required in an engaging piece of theatre.
Regardless of the clunky segmentation, the vocals and band were enough to keep the audience engaged and dancing in their seats. The enjoyment was palpable, via the reverberating foot stomping felt through the floor tiered seating, and culminated in a well-deserved standing ovation for the lovely Miss Bull.
For more information on At Last: The Etta James Story, visit their website: www.atlasttheettajamesstory.com.au