Jessica Wretlind reviews Tina the musical which chronicles the life of iconic performer Tina Turner now playing at the Aldwych Theatre.
The atmosphere of excitement was palpable even before the curtains went up on Tina, and the recognisable bars of the opening score coaxed song from the eager crowd. But this show transcends the familiar jukebox musical where story is often secondary. It fulfils its promise to ‘dive into the dark’ of it’s star’s private life, and guides us through a compelling narrative. We earn every hit that punctuates the chapters within her journey to stardom (all 23 of them!), and with the audience on their feet before the curtain call, it’s impossible not to predict its huge success.
The musical is born of an impressive creative team: director Phyllida Lloyd was responsible for global mega-hit Mamma Mia! and the book writer is Olivier Award-winning playwright Katori Hall. The set and costumes by Mark Thompson (Charlie, Joseph, Bombay Dreams) is exquisite, and works in perfect harmony with Bruno Poet’s lighting design to wash the stage in golden disco splendour.
Adrienne Warren is a magnificent Tina. Her explosive vocals soar from husky lows to dizzying heights, whilst her acting offers equal skill and range. From a Tina that is young, spirited and hopeful, then physically and mentally abused, to broken, intensely vulnerable and yet still staunchly determined, Warren keeps us invested the whole way. There is no compromise of quality in this perfect casting. During her pain, Tina finds solace in her Buddhist faith, and it is through enraptured chanting that she remembers her humble beginnings as Anna Mae Bullock in Nutbush, Tennessee and calls on the comfort of her late Grandmother during her darkest times.
Her relationship with musical collaborator and husband Ike Turner (Kobna Holdbrook-Smith) is at the centre of the narrative. After hearing her voice in a small town competition, Ike sweeps her off her feet and onto the road with his band, offering little in the way of respect (or salary!) for 16 gruelling years. It is during this time that Tina manifests herself as an artist whose vocals speak of the pain and desperation that we see behind closed doors (Private Dancer, I don’t want to fight). Her fight is not only with Ike, however, and when she finally leaves him she falls into another gruelling battle with the prejudice’s of the 70s music industry.
It is not all doom at the disco, however, and the chemistry amongst the ensemble serves buckets of humour to be enjoyed. Tina’s relationship with her endearing sister Alline (Aisha Jawando) portrays a love void of greed and pride, and the opportunity for true romance finally presents itself hand-in-hand with her breakthrough record deal. It’s simply The Best success story of the most deserving kind. The third in a succession of alternative tributes to the Queen of Rock and Roll, (I, Tina and Soul Sister) Tina is a stunning show in all respects and likely to be a run away success throughout it’s year on London’s West End.