On November 26, 1939, Anna Mae Bullock was born at Poindexter Farm on Highway 180 in the small town of Nutbush, in Haywood County, Tennessee. For those that don’t recognise the name, my advice is to get yourselves down to the Aldwych Theatre where the story of the girl who grew to be a megastar is being told in the world premiere of Tina.
Tina is the story of how young Anna Mae (Claudia Elie/Serena Mukuna/Reya-Nyomi Brown), abandoned by her mother, Zelma (Madeline Appiah) and is brought up by her maternal grandmother GG (Lorna Gayle). As Anna Mae (Adrienne Warren) gets older, GG realises it is time for her to leave Nutbush and head for the lights of St Louis to be reunited with her mother and sister Alline (Aisha Jawando). There, Anna Mae went to the Club Manhattan and met a singer/songwriter/bandleader by the name of Ike Turner (Kobna Holdbrook-Smith) who signs her up to his band, changes her name to Tina Turner and the rest, as they say, is history.
The first thing to say about Tina is that Ms Turner herself co-operated with writer Katori Hall to produce the book (assisted by Frank Ketelaar and Kees Prins) for the play. Therefore the story you see is very much from Tina’s view. That isn’t a problem as the life portrayed in Tina doesn’t hide some of the mistakes Tina made in her life and covers, in quite graphic details the highs and lows of a decades-spanning career. What matters here is the story and, of course, the music. The story starts in 1950 with Anna Mae’s mother leaving and ends in 1988 when the audience are transported to Rio to join the other 180,000 people lucky enough to see Tina Turner perform live. Over the roughly two hours forty running time, a lot of ground is covered and the pace is breakneck. With a vast back catalogue to choose from the show contains 23 of the finest. I loved the fact that they are not sung in release date order but to add to or further the narrative – for example singing ‘Private Dancer’ to a group of disinterested record company executives who walk off as Tina goes through the number. For me, the two big questions were, will the show contain ‘Proud Mary’ and will it sound right. Without giving anything away, the answer is a resounding, Yes and Yes.
And the delivery is entirely the work of Adrienne Warren who is the most perfect Tina Turner since Angela Bassett in the 1993 film “What’s Love Got to do With it?”. Adrienne is Tina from start to finish. The voice, the movement, the look – Adrienne has captured every facet of Tina Turner and made it her own. Barely off the stage – except for costume changes – brilliant work by designer Mark Thompson – Adrienne must be one of the hardest working actors in the West End. Tina Turner was no slouch in her performances and Adrienne – under Director Phyllida Lloyd – recreates them perfectly. A true star. Credit also has to go to Kobna Holdbrook-Smith for his portrayal of Ike Turner. Ike is a complex character who could easily be portrayed as a pantomime villain. Instead, Kobna shows us a man that, while we still despise him, has a human side that, on some level, we can understand. Don’t get me wrong, Ike is a nasty piece of work from the start but, and this is particularly true in the scene where he asks/tells Tina to marry him, enough of his human vulnerability was there to stop the audience storming the stage for what happened next. Adrienne and Kobna are backed up by a fantastic cast who, like the leads, really throw themselves into the performance.
Mark Thompson’s set is highly impressive with walls and door appearing inside a well-used revolve, and a back projection that adds colour to the performances and provides a wonderful backdrop to some of the scenes – my favourite was Memphis at night which looks spectacular and sounds amazing thanks to the song being sung.
In fact, that pretty much sums up Tina. It both looks and sounds spectacular all the way through. You don’t have to be a fan of the lady – and who isn’t? – to appreciate the songs and the very human story being told. As the curtain finally fell on the standing ovation, there was a buzz in the atmosphere that I rarely feel. The conversations were loud and words such as ‘amazing’, splendid’, ‘fantastic’ etc were coming all around me. And listening to the conversations as we reluctantly filed out of the theatre, the main thing I heard was how unbelievably great Adrienne’s performance had been – sentiments I am really happy to agree with wholeheartedly.
My final bit of advice. If you only see one musical this year then, firstly you need to go out more and secondly get yourself to the Aldwych and, experience a show that will blow you away.
Review by Terry Eastham
From humble beginnings in Nutbush, Tennessee, to her transformation into the global Queen of Rock ‘n’ Roll, Tina Turner didn’t just break the rules, she rewrote them. This new stage musical reveals the untold story of a woman who dared to defy the bounds of her age, gender and race.
One of the world’s best-selling artists of all time, Tina Turner has won 11 Grammy Awards and her live shows have been seen by millions, with more concert tickets sold than any other solo performer in music history.
Featuring her much loved songs, TINA – The Tina Turner Musical is written by Olivier Award-winning playwright Katori Hall and directed by the internationally acclaimed Phyllida Lloyd.
Presented in association with Tina Turner.
TINA – THE TINA TURNER MUSICAL
Aldwych Theatre, London
Tina – The Tina Turner Musical
If you only see one musical this year then, firstly you need to go out more and secondly get yourself to the Aldwych Theatre and, experience a show that will blow you away – Tina: The Tina Turner Musical.