VIKA Bull isn't much of an actress, but it doesn't matter: her voice is clearly the star here, and when she thunders out Etta James' songbook you can forgive her anything.
James' troubled life is narrated by Bull and trumpeter Tibor Gyapjas, elucidating songs' meanings through the events that inspired them.
While the script is peppered with cliches, writer John H. Livings goes into finer detail than say Rhonda Burchmore's recent paean to Julie London. James is also a more compelling character, her story like that of Hollywood melodrama: a difficult childhood, addiction, stints in jail and an indomitable spirit regardless.
Initially Bull's demeanour seems too sweet to capture James' sorrow, but her powerhouse performance suggests she knows something of heartbreak. Her voice is brawny and rousing, ranging effortlessly from soulful screamers, coquettish seductions and anguished devotion.
What really shines through is James' dogged tenacity - she lived till 73, despite her destructive lifestyle. Hits covered from her lengthy career include breakthrough single Roll With Me Henry, funkadelic Tell Mama, heart-wrenching ballad I'd Rather Go Blind and her signature song, At Last.
James savaged Beyonce after the young upstart sang At Last at Obama's first inauguration, proclaiming, ''I would've sung it better''. To Bull's credit, I think James would approve this time.