If my name was Tina Turner, would I have turned up to opening night of Tina: The Tina Turner Musical? She has, of course, endorsed the show, and it’s her words of welcome that greet theatre patrons as they open the programme (sorry, ‘souvenir brochure’), expressing her best wishes and hopes that we enjoy the show. She’s been a part of the show’s development from workshop stage, but it’s still a distinctly uncomfortable watch, especially in the first half, as Tina (played by Adrienne Warren) suffers at the hands of her first husband Ike (an extraordinarily convincing Kobna Holdbrook Smith).
The amount of physical and psychological abuse meted out on stage would be seen as mere sensationalism – unnecessary, even – had it not been representative of an actual marriage that was never going to last. Indeed, it is astonishing that Tina held out as long as she did. Perhaps sticking it out is what people did back then – just as getting married in the first place is what people did back then. Warren, like Andrew Polec over at Bat Out of Hell The Musical, was imported from the United States: here, one wonders how much acting is required, if any, when a London music producer starts talking to her using British English idioms, and she wants a translation.
With Ike out of the way after the interval (well, sort of), things get worse before they get better, as Tina is left to claw her way back into the music business having taken the decision to go solo – Ike had dictatorial control over the business affairs of his and Tina’s careers, so Tina had to reinvent herself, no longer being able to use the songs from ‘The Ike and Tina Turner Revue’ that put her name on the map in the first place. Triumph over adversity eventually happens, though, and the show ends quite gloriously in January 1988, when a stadium crowd in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, has gathered to see her perform.
What is striking is how much Adrienne Warren really does sound like Tina Turner, with the sort of vocal that requires some significant vocal gymnastics. But this is not merely an extremely accurate impersonation, even as the movements and mannerisms scream TINA TURNER. There’s something about Warren’s sheer commitment to the role that one would be forgiven for momentarily thinking it really is Turner up there on the Aldwych Theatre stage. So convincing is the title character’s performance that one can’t but help but root for her.
Some of the songs help to push the narrative forward, whilst others serve the purpose of underlining a certain atmosphere, or otherwise creating one. If the sound is quite muffled at times, it finally nails it in an enthusiastic encore, which sees Warren bounce around with the sort of seemingly tireless energy not seen in the West End since Charlie Stemp led the Chichester Festival Theatre transfer of Half A Sixpence. Most of the orchestra is repositioned so as to form an on-stage band, and Turner’s fans in the audience, who already know all the words, having (mostly) kept a respectful silence throughout, seize the moment and go for it.
Simply the best? Well, I doubt Tina Turner’s fanbase will be disappointed. Yes, I’d recommend it.
London lad, loving life and all that it has to offer.