Blog: Tina and the Wave of Upcoming Bio- & Jukebox Musicals

We take a look at the current West End smash hit and the upcoming slate of musicals based on popular artists of the music industry...

On Your Feet! The Story of Emilio & Gloria Estefan, Tina: The Tina Turner Musical & The Band

One of the hottest tickets in town at the moment is unquestionably Tina: The Tina Turner Musical. Ever since the world premiere production began performances at London’s Aldwych Theatre in March of this year, it has enjoyed full houses and standing ovations, as well as an avalanche of overwhelmingly positive reviews following its official opening on 17th April.

Last week I was fortunate enough to attend a performance of the new bio-musical and I am overjoyed to say that, in this instance, you can believe the hype. As a fan of Tina Turner myself, overly familiar with her music and her life story (especially the events depicted in the 1993 biopic “What’s Love Got to Do with It” starring Angela Bassett in an Oscar-nominated performance), there were mixed feelings of elation and trepidation when the musical was first announced. My anxiety was somewhat relieved by enlisting playwright Katori Hall to write the book for the musical, as I had previously admired her 2009 play The Mountaintop, centring on Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. I believed she would bring an air of authenticity and a dedicated passion to the project. I also felt assured the musical was in safe hands with director extraordinaire Phyllida Lloyd at the helm, who has championed women’s stories and all-female productions in recent years. It just seemed fitting to have strong, creative women telling the story of one of the strongest women ever to work in the music industry – a story of overcoming adversity, racism, ageism and sexism. And the fact that Stage Entertainment was producing the musical in association with the living legend herself, was simply the cherry on the cake and the golden seal of approval for a bona fide hit.

Despite everything it had going for it, however, one question still remained stubbornly at the forefront of my mind… Who on earth would be able to fill those shoes and play Tina Turner on a nightly basis? Enter Adrienne Warren, a compact powerhouse from Virginia…

Adrienne Warren and the company of Tina: The Tina Turner Musical
(Photo by Manuel Harlan)

I had previously been impressed by Adrienne’s performance in Shuffle Along on Broadway, back in the spring of 2016, holding her own in her featured role opposite Audra “Mama Broadway” McDonald herself and earning her first Tony Award nomination along the way. But, with this West End debut performance, a musical theatre superstar has truly been born. In terms of her stamina, it’s nothing short of astonishing how she is still delivering the vocals and the energy levels I witnessed last week and, under Lloyd’s direction, there are a multitude of nuances in her performance that I relished wholeheartedly. Warren develops the iconic voice, movements and image of Tina in gradual stages, as the character simultaneously struggles to find her independence and her own sound, so that by the end of the piece, as the solo star is performing the hits we all know and love, in the costumes (and wig) that helped to establish her as an icon, we feel we have witnessed every ingredient in the complex recipe of the making of a music legend. When Warren eventually heads back stateside, she will certainly be leaving some formidable shoes to fill in her own right…

After seeing Tina, I reflected upon all the bio-musicals and jukebox musicals I had experienced – either in the West End or on Broadway. There have been hits, there have been misses… there have also been a couple of “What were they thinking?!” scenarios, but the genre doesn’t show any signs of slowing down. In fact, it seems as if more and more recording artists are either giving their blessing or getting involved themselves in theatrical presentations of their back catalogues. Next up to hit New York City is the eagerly anticipated Broadway premiere of The Cher Show, which is set to begin performances at the Neil Simon Theatre on 1st November 2018, with not one but three leading ladies (including two-time Tony Award nominee Stephanie J. Block) portraying the recent “Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again” star in the musical, based of Cher’s life and music. Just a couple of blocks away, in a similar vein, three actresses are also giving their all as the ‘Queen of Disco’ in Summer: The Donna Summer Musical, as performances continue at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre, whilst Beautiful: The Carole King Musical is steadily approaching its fifth anniversary at the Stephen Sondheim Theatre and Jersey Boys (The Story of Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons) is now playing an open-ended off-Broadway run at New World Stages.

A scene from Motown The Musical
(Photo by Alastair Muir)

Back on British soil, Motown The Musical (based on founder Berry Gordy’s autobiography and featuring an unending list of hits from Motown artists such as Diana Ross and Marvin Gaye) is now in its third year at the Shaftesbury Theatre, proving even more successful than its original Broadway run.

And then we have the jukebox musicals… Shows that – unlike bio-musicals – do not depict the life story of a particular artist on stage, but rather use their back catalogue of hits to tell an original story. ABBA-inspired Mamma Mia! is still going strong at the Novello Theatre, celebrating a breath-taking 19 years in the West End, whilst more recent additions in the genre include Jim Steinman’s Bat Out of Hell – currently playing the Dominion Theatre and deafening crowds with the beloved hits of Meat Loaf – and the Bob Dylan-infused Girl from the North Country (which transfers to NYC’s Public Theater from 11th September 2018).

There are also a number of bio- and jukebox musicals that are currently in various stages of development. In January 2018, Frank Sinatra Enterprises announced that Sinatra: The Musical is officially on its way and eyeing a 2020 London premiere, whilst over the pond, it reads like a who’s who in terms of who’ll be getting the Broadway treatment next. An untitled musical based on the life of Michael Jackson was announced in June 2018 by Columbia Live Stage and the Michael Jackson Estate for a Broadway bow in 2020, promising a fully-fledged bio-musical (opposed to London’s concert-style celebration that goes by the name of Thriller Live). Jagged Little Pill, inspired by Alanis Morissette’s critically acclaimed 1995 album, just finished its out-of-town try-out in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and is rumoured to be looking at a future either in New York or London. And other rumoured shows over the years have included the likes of Hit Me Baby One More Time – the working title of a Britney Spears musical, which is eyeing a 2019 premiere after the popstar attended a first reading in May of this year, True Love (featuring the hits of P!nk) – which held a second readthrough in 2015, and in March 2016, Backstreet Boys member Brian Littrell revealed he was also working on a Broadway musical featuring the boy band’s greatest hits. Other reports from the rumour mill have included works based on hits from Amy Winehouse and Kylie Minogue, among others.

A scene from The Band
(Photo by Matt Crockett)

So, there are many jukebox musical irons in the fire and we will keep you all updated as productions are given the official green light. Until then, the West End premiere of Take That juggernaut The Band is set to play the Theatre Royal Haymarket from 1st December 2018 to 12th January 2019, whilst the West End transfer of Broadway’s On Your Feet! The Story of Emilio & Gloria Estefan will land at the London’s Coliseum from 14th June to 31st August 2019.

A scene from On Your Feet! The Story of Emilio & Gloria Estefan
(Photo by Matthew Murphy)

…And if you can’t wait that long, then book yourselves in now for Tina: The Tina Turner Musical, “Simply The Best” bio-musical I have ever seen!

Tina: The Tina Turner Musical Tickets are available now.

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