If you drew up a list of everything you wanted from a Tina Turner musical, you wouldn’t be disappointed by Tina, which gets its world premiere at the Aldwych Theatre. It’s got the anthems, it’s got the moves, it’s got the hair. But on a deep-dive into the life of one of the world’s best-selling recording artists, we witness some of the moments of genuine turmoil she’s had to endure on her way to stardom.
Born Anna Mae Bullock, the young Turner grew up in the small Tennessee town of Nutbush, whose Black residents were expected to stick to picking cotton and keep to themselves. Her first experience of violence is over the kitchen table as her father beats her mother. It draws gasps from the audience who may have bought tickets solely expecting a jaunty musical, but also provides a harrowing insight into the life that lies ahead.
Anna Mae was discovered by Ike Turner, who put her centre stage leading his band alongside him. He made her change her name to Tina Turner, and made her his wife. Tina became embroiled in Ike’s life: he would beat her for seeing men before they were married, for not performing the music in his vision. And it’s pretty brutal stuff.
The second half focusses much more on Turner’s music: working with Beatles producer Phil Spector; finding her rock ‘n’ roll mojo; facing record labels who would only have one Black woman on their books. It brings Turner’s current husband, record executive Erwin Bach (Gerard McCarthy), into the frame, though his involvement in the story feels shoe-horned in.
Making her West End debut, Adrienne Warren absolutely storms it in the title role. Her impersonations of Turner are pretty spot-on, from her low-smooth tones to iconic howls – best demonstrated in a scene in the recording studio where Ike pushes the singer to go higher and higher. She’s got the moves too, imitating Turner’s distinctive moves and during the finale, transporting us from the Aldwych to the 180,000 capacity Maracana Stadium; from a musical to a rock concert.
As you would expect, Tina is constantly at the centre of this story. Katori Hall’s book does tackle the issues head-on, it covers racism in the Deep South, adversity in the music industry, and relationships of domestic abuse – all very current issues too. The only respite comes in the music.
The whole show has more of a rock musical vibe than I expected. Many scenes begin on stage or at a recording session, giving us full-power renditions of “River Deep. Mountain High” and “The Best” (which is a pretty high-octane finale that drew the audience to its feet). But a highlight could be act two opener “Private Dancer”, as Tina struggles to cope after Ike uses copyright to stop her from performing any of the songs they worked on together.
Phyllida Lloyd’s staging includes the extensive use of video as a backdrop which works well to transport us from rainy London (“I Can't Stand the Rain”) to trippy, colourful scenes like “Higher”. The choreography is some of the most giddy and energetic in the West End (the faster the better) and while Warren’s spot-on as Turner, the speed means it’s noticeable if one dancer is a touch out of time.
Kobna Holdbrook-Smith, performing in a musical for the first time, plays the villainous Ike with ferocity, though it is slightly grating that the character can hardly go one song without grabbing a guitar.
It’s everything you expected, executed well and packs in a few surprises. Simply the Best? If you’re a Tina fan, it’ll definitely be pretty close.
Tina - The Tina Turner Musical Tickets are available now.
What the popular press said...
"Born in the USA, made in England. That’s the thesis of this slickly choreographed, beautifully designed and roof-raisingly well-sung bio-musical about Tina Turner."
Dominic Cavendish, The Telegraph (five stars)
"This is a great show that is going to be a hit and its star, Adrienne Warren, is, as someone once sang, simply the best."
Ann Treneman, The Times (four stars)
"[Tina] offers a heady celebration of triumph over adversity and boasts a whirlwind performance by Adrienne Warren that left the audience, though not the star herself, breathless."
Michael Billington, The Guardian (four stars)
"Two things make this new West End mega-musical incredible: one, her life story – the fact that the unwanted daughter of poor black sharecroppers in racist small-town Tennessee became Tina Turner; two, Adrienne Warren as Tina."
Tim Bano, The Stage (four stars)
"Phyllida Lloyd’s production is a rollicking rollercoaster ride, delivered with stylistic verve and fireball energy by a high-caliber cast and crew."
Stephen Dalton, Hollywood Reporter
"Warren is a livewire performer with a belter of a voice and the hits, as well as that iconic clothing combination of leather and denim, are all present and correct."
Fiona Mountford, Evening Standard (three stars)
"From the second she takes over from the child actor playing her young self, Warren ignites the theater."
David Benedict, Variety