The Tina Turner Musical
Review by Clive Burton
Nothing prepares you for the tornado of talent that Adrienne Warren unleashes throughout the world premiere production of Tina in a performance of such stellar magnitude as to leave the audience breathless while she just keeps coming back to deliver more without turning a hair of her signature leonine coiffeur.
Ms Warren’s extraordinary gift - all the more astonishing given that this hyper-talented 30-year-old is making her West End debut - brings Turner’s turbulent life to the stage with staggering resonance and in a performance of ferocious truth, commitment and energy.
When the musical was in development, the venerable rocker insisted that her life should not be ‘Disneyfied’ in any way: her wish has been granted – and then some;
Warren soon establishes that she is ‘Simply the Best’ in a role that re-creates the superstar’s life in all its triumphs and not inconsiderable trials in a multi-facetted character whose whole is significantly greater than sum of the parts assembled around her: the show leaves few situations – however sordid - unexplored from the start, where we see Tina preparing to go on stage in the concert which will later end the show
The formulaic nature of the book (by Katori Hall, with Frank Ketelaar and Kees Prins) lends a certain efficiency rather than dramatic tension, as director Phyllida Lloyd guides the story to a natural climax where her star can finally pull out all the stops to give the audience the performance of a lifetime. Along the way, Ms Lloyd creates many fine stage tableaux whose beauty will long remain etched in the mind for their striking beauty
But before this can happen, the story re-winds to Nutbush Tennessee where the young Anna Mae Bullock (played as a child by Claudia Elie) is being chastised for singing ‘too loud’ in the local church choir, where her God-given vocal talent is already beginning to mark her out as someone truly special.
Her life will be familiar to Ms. Turner’s myriad of fans from other musical treatments and biopics, but the soundtrack to Tina employs songs to a greater degree to colour the action (which can occasionally be on the leisurely side, despite a multiplicity of scene changes).
‘Let’s Stay Together’ (a hit from 1983) adds heft to a duet between Tina and her (then) lover, Natey Jones’ Raymond Hill, the father of her first son whom she leaves for Kobna Holbrook-Smith’s abusive Ike, the man who came up with the name by which she is universally known today.
You never grow to like such a controlling figure, and to some extent Tina realises what she is taking on from early in their relationship - she has already suffered abuse at his hands - and intuits the conditions of their partnership in ‘Better be Good to Me’. It’s a vain hope when dealing with such a serial adulterer and drug-taker, but she endures her predicament until their divorce in 1976 (a landmark event helpfully delineated in a chronical of important dates contained in the programme).
Although Ike makes only brief intermittent appearances in the second half, pursuing her with threats of breach of copyright and other money-extorting ploys, Holbrook-Smith makes his mark to the extent that he elicits some good-natured boos at his curtain call.
As she struggles to get her career back to track, other men who influenced her career were aware of her talent but uncertain how best to use it (and her) to make money, including an autocrat Phil Spector(Tom Godwin) whose legendary wall of sound is reproduced to earth-shattering effect in ‘River Deep, Mountain High’.
Unlike other jukebox musicals, where hits are inserted peremptorily for effect, in Tina they are used in a startlingly dramatic manner – as when master choreographer Anthony Van Laast has Tina singing ‘Private Dancer’ surrounded by a circle of ‘suits’.This brilliant ploy not only emphasises the demeaning nature of the private dancer ethos, but also draws a parallel with how the record industry spurned Ms Turner to a (white) man when she was trying to re-establish herself as a solo artist, as one by one the executives dismiss her as yesterday’s talent and the merry-go-round in silence.
Mark Thompson’s sets and costumes add considerable atmosphere and colour, whether in the form of abstract background flourishes or in one bar in the deep South (an apparent homage to Edward Hoppers’ iconic downtown diner) where Tina and her co-horts meet with the racial abuse still common in those days.
The show finally reaches the climax everyone is waiting for as Ms Warren unleashes a further blast of unbridled energy in a roof-raising encore set embracing ‘ Proud Mary’, ‘Nutbush City Limits’ and, inevitably ‘Simply the Best’. Which, on this showing, she undoubtedly is.
London WC2B 4DF
Box Office: 0845 200 7981
CAST CHANGES see footnote
The second year Company will begin performances on
19 March 2019, with Nkeki Obi-Melekwe (Tina Turner) and Ashley Zhangazha (Ike Turner) joining the following month. Aisha Jawando will play the role of Tina at some performances each week, Irene-Myrtle Forrester will play Tina’s Grandmother GG, Howard Gossington will play Record Producer Phil Spector and Lyricist Terry Britten, Francesca Jackson will continue to play Ike and Tina’s manager Rhonda Graam, Jammy Kasongo will play Tina’s father Richard Bullock and Tina’s first love Raymond Hill, Edward Bourne will play record company Marketing Manager Erwin Bach and Oscar Batterham will play Tina’s Manager Roger Davies. Maria Omakinwa joins to play the role of Tina’s mother Zelma until 22 June 2019, when Madeline Appiah will rejoin the Company in that role.
They are joined by ensemble members Daniella Bowen, Chloe Chambers, Joelle Dyson, Sia Kiwa, Lejaun Sheppard, Kibong Tanji, Cameron Bernard Jones who also plays Tina’s son Craig and Ashlee Irish who plays Tina’s son Ronnie and Joseph Richardson, and swings Gavin Alex, Derek Aidoo, Joshua Da Costa, Amandla Elynah, Hannah Jay-Allan, Angela Marie Hurst, Leisha Mollyneaux and Samuel J. Weir.