“Tina, The Musical”
at the Aldwych Theatre
8th May 2018
“Oh yes, I’m touched by this show of emotion
Should I be fractured by your lack of devotion?”
I recall Tina Turner’s career comeback as the once derided ‘fortysomething singing has-been’ in the early 1980s. Our children learned to recognise the foot acceleration in my car when “Simply the Best” rang out of the radio! My only regret was not being able to go to one of her concerts.
So here was the next best opportunity to being at a Tina Turner rock concert: “Tina, The Musical”.
Born Anna Mae Bullock in Nutbush, Tennessee, and loving singing in Baptist choirs, Tina (Adrienne Warren) learns to cope with her parents’ separation. Many will know what came next, whether from Turner’s autobiography or the 1993 film “What’s Love Got to do with it”: a churchgoing youth that gives way over time to fervently held Buddhism, alongside episodes of abuse most often at the hands of an ex-husband, Ike Turner, who gives the soulful Anna Mae her newly alliterative stage name. In the first hour, light is shed also on other struggles: racism, ageism, Tina’s conflicted relationship with her mother, and her own struggles trying to raise a family while simultaneously building a career.
Kobna Holdbrook-Smith is an unnerving presence and he communicates ably the delivers a toxic performance as the abusive Ike.
As you would expect, Tina is constantly at the centre of the action, and Warren, ever present, is truly magnetic and magnificent. Though Warren doesn’t really look anything like Turner, she perfectly captures that leggy, dominant physicality, carrying the label, ‘James Brown in a skirt’.
The second half of the show focuses solely on her life post-Ike: her difficulties to get a record deal,. Success finally arrives with support from brash young Australian manager, Roger Davies (Ryan O’Donnell) and new German lover, Erwin Bach (Gerard McCarthy), she begins turning her career around. I loved the moment when we watch record producer Phil Spector urging Tina through take after take of “River Deep, Mount High”. It is now we hear and see a new Tina emerge into the pout-strutting, frenzied mane-shaking tour-de-force with her legs astride in battle position that we all know so well.
Phyllida Lloyd’s direction isn’t perfect as events are skipped over. True, the script lacks the robustness of “Caroline, Or Change”. Additionally, Fight director, Kate Waters doesn’t capture the mood of the violence scenes properly, enlisting rather amateur and all too flippant scenes of abuse. Nevertheless, we effortlessly transition through periods of Turner’s life, aided by very intricate set design and a cleverly used multiple-revolving stage. But this is a celebration of a rock icon so all flaws are forgotten by the end, as the fourth wall drops away and the production becomes a full-blooded rock show. The audience rises to their feet in adulation as Warren busts out “Simply the Best” and reprises of “Nutbush City Limits” and “Proud Mary”. The roof is suitably blown off. The wonder is how Adrienne Warren is able to deliver such a Duracell performance of relentless energy of smoky vocals. All made me tearful and breathless by this debut London homage to one of the greatest singers of my time.
The book for Tina was co-written by Katori Hall, whose fictionalized account of Martin Luther King’s final few hours, The Mountaintop, won an Oliver Award in London in 2009 before making its Broadway debut two years later