Piecing together the drug-fuelled ups and downs of one of music’s most loved enigmas, Vika Bull raises the roof of the Cadogan Hall with an electrifying performance in At Last: The Etta James Story.
While she was topping charts throughout the twentieth century, Etta James’ turbulent life continued to act as a heartbreaking muse. At Last: The Etta James Story pieces together the drug-fuelled ups and shattering downs of one of music’s most loved enigmas.
A smash-hit since its premier in Melbourne in 2013, At Last: The Etta James Story provides a biographical narrative wrapped around Etta’s greatest hits. Act One focuses on Etta’s heart-wrenching childhood, questionable taste in men and disastrous heroin addiction – allowing the audience great insight into powerhouse hits such as ‘Something’s Got a Hold on Me’ and ‘I Just Wanna Make Love to You’.
While the narration skills of trumpeter Tibor Gyapjas is perhaps not at the same level as his brass abilities, Vika Bull and the bamboozling band compensate for the narration that delivers in content, but may have benefited from a more accomplished actor’s delivery. In truth, the strikingly beautiful voice and scintillating style of Vika Bull, a notorious singer in her native Australia, steals the show throughout.
Bull’s ability to touch the heart with delicate songs such as ‘Tell Mama’, while sending shock waves throughout the auditorium with ‘I’d Rather Go Blind’, is credit to a voice that would not be out of place alongside Etta herself.
The second half of the show sees a complex and contrasting set of Etta James hits. It draws upon ballad, rock, jazz, soul and blues, neatly identifying how Etta James overcame her struggles to gain sobriety, develop a relationship with her estranged mother and make a ferocious comeback in the 1990s; while never losing the wild personality that made her who she was.
The range of Bull’s voice, coupled with her accomplished stage presence, ensure At Last: The Etta James Story never flirts with ‘glorified tribute act’ accusations. After many tears shed, three standing ovations and a lots of dancing in the aisle, we returned home rejoiced. The show truly merits its reputation as one of the best musical stage shows around. A must-see for Etta James fans, and newbies, alike.