Soul royalty at the Mayfield: a review of Soul Sistas

Soul Sistas, Mayfield Dinner Theatre. Photo by Ed Ellis.

By Liz Nicholls,

Holy smoke! Or as we say in the prairies, Holeeeee! If you haven’t seen the audacious concert show currently running — also dancing, jumping, rocking — at the Mayfield, you’re missing out (as I discovered just this week). Soul Sistas is a rare chance for Edmonton to experience bona fide soul: sexy star performances from a couple of startling talents backed up by Van Wilmott’s  crack seven-piece band and expert back-up musicians.

As you’ll learn in Soul Sistas, assembled and annotated by the mystery team of Will Marks and Kevin Michaels, what the remarkable careers of soul icons Aretha Franklin and Tina Turner have in common is a point of origin in gospel, and the African-American church. Ah, and Tennessee.

Aretha, though, grew up blue-blood in the family of a celebrity Memphis preacher who played Scrabble with Martin Luther King. Tina, the adoptive name of one Anna Mae Bullock, grew up dirt poor in Nutbush, Tenn., This backwoods town lends its singular name to Tina Turner’s Nutbush City Limits, as you’ll discover in a production number of high-octane brio and snazzy choreography (by Christine Bandelow) in the course of Act II.

Even though this is “in the spirit of…” and not some “legends”-type impersonation extravaganza, the casting challenges of Soul Sistas, as you’ll glean, are daunting. Especially in the case of soul queen Aretha , it’s the voice, a soulful coloratura of unparalleled agility. As Aretha’s admiring sister (Antonette Rudder) puts it, it’s the voice that delivers “the most intense R&B in history….” Tara Jackson, startlingly, evokes the singer’s legendary vocal gymnastics with impressive authority, in a powerhouse performance that’s all her own.

Tina Turner’s story, from a hard-scrabble childhood to a career tied to and thwarted, temporarily, by the notoriously sleazy and thuggish Ike (Matt Nethersole), seems to have distinct chapters, as signalled by hair size and colour. The soul remains; enter the rock star with the explosive non-stop physical energy onstage enters. Triple-threat Tiffany Deriveau delivers a sexy, magnetic performance, a veritable perpetual motion machine who doesn’t just occupy the stage but rampages through it dancing. And smiling: a workout of epic proportions.

The script isn’t long on biographical zeal, for which we should probably be thankful. Yay Atlantic Records, boo Columbia Records, that sort of thing. In each act, members of the ensemble — Aretha’s sister, a Tina back-up singer — steps forward to volley  some simple, sometimes goofy, narrative fragments. And there’s video footage (and a non-stop succession of wigs) to conjure and the evolution of the stars through space and time.

But mainly, the songs just keep coming. Chain of Fools, Rock Steady, Natural Woman, Rocket 88, What’s Love Got To Do With It, Simply The Best….

That river is deep and the mountain high.


Soul Sistas

Theatre: Mayfield Dinner Theatre

Written and compiled by: Will Marks and Kevin Michaels

Staged by: Christian Goutsis

Starring: Tara Jackson, Tiffany Deriveau, Jameela McNeil, Matt Nethersole, Atonette Rudder, Malinda Carroll

Running: through Oct. 29

Tickets: 780-483-4051,

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