Review: At Last: The Etta James Story
Rhythm And Blues make for a truly spectacular show under normal circumstances. However, when they feature the songs of the famous Etta James, and are performed as well as they were at the At Last: The Etta James Story, then it creates an event that is truly spectacular and fun. From fast paced rock’n’roll numbers, to slower blues ballads, and even adventuring into pop, At Last certainly delivers a show that would have certainly have made Etta proud. From the intro to the finale, and the encore, the show was brilliant to watch, and the style brought the audience into a strong understanding of Etta’s world.
The show was set up by a very strong opening, with the heavy brass and saxophone opening to ‘I Just Wanna Make Love To You’. With a strong opening like that, there was very little that could go wrong. From this get-go, the pace was set. Throughout the rest of the show, various important hits that Etta performed and wrote (including one, I’d Rather Go Blind, which she wrote but didn’t want to have attributed to her for tax reasons). With a variety of her famous hits, such as ‘A Woman In A Man’s World’, ‘Pushover’, ‘Tell Mama’ and ‘Something’s Got A Hold Of Me’, the show had a dynamic range of songs that reflected Etta’s own skills as a vocalist and a composer. Naturally, the show ended with the beautiful, truly iconic ‘At Last’, which was rewarded with a standing ovation and a demand for an encore. From a musical perspective, it was a stunning show, flawless in its execution on the musician’s part.
Speaking of the musicians, their skill was high. The lead vocalist, Vika Bull, was not only was a stunning singer, but also a good storyteller. Her vocal skills were certainly something marvellous to listen to, and she carried the show brilliantly, not to mention her very cool costumes. Whilst she was certainly a better singer than storyteller (she sometimes slipped up her lines – not that this dented the flow of the performance much), the story was assisted by a secondary narrator. The trumpeter, Tibor Gyapjas, managed to juggle both his trumpet (and flugal horn!) playing skills with his narration (not to mention some pretty awesome dance moves). Both narrators were skilful in their presentation and, due in part to the style of the show, in part because of their own skills in the area, it never felt forced or slow in the delivery. Some vamping from the musicians in some cases certainly helped, but overall, the narration was skilfully handled. The other musicians were also fantastically talented. Ben Gillespie (trombone and backing vocals), Chris Bekker (bass and backing vocals), John Watson (drums), Dion Hirini (guitar and backing vocals) and Anton Delecca (saxophone) were all excellent performers, and the musical director John McAll (piano/keyboard, musical direction and backing vocals) did a splendid job at keeping the group musically coherent and ensuring that musically everything ran smoothly.
As with everything in this world, there were some problems with the show. Firstly, sometimes the songs, whilst still stunning and with the high impact value they had, felt a little out of place in regards to the narrative. For example, some of the songs, understandably, are about love and romance. However, when they were dealing with Etta’s heroin addiction, unless the lyrics were a very subtle hint, I fail to see how watching the love of your life getting married to another woman being connected to heroin (although there may be a hidden message there). Secondly, at the start of the show especially, sometimes the microphones, especially on the vocal mike, were too loud, and occasionally was almost ear-splittingly loud. Whilst the problem did resolve itself towards the end of the show, it was a little distracting at times, and occasionally distracted from the quality of the vocal work and the overall show.
Aside from these minor points, the show was brilliant. The stunning mixture of music in the show, despite sometimes not being connected to the narrative, was certainly well picked and performed, and the show had an excellent mixture of ballads, rock’n’roll numbers and blues. Truly brilliant, the show is certainly worth looking out for. If you have an appreciation for the blues, or rock’n’roll, or pop, or the works of Etta James specifically, or indeed any musical appreciation at all, it would be a good idea to go and check out this show as soon as possible. It is certainly worth watching.