The Theatreguide.London Review
Aldwych Theatre 2018 -
This new musical is aimed directly at Tina Turner fans, and there are enough of us out here, happy to hear the songs and watch someone imitating Tina, to keep it running for years (though, I would guess, probably not for decades).
Experience shows that a jukebox musical – that is, one built on pop songs the audience already knows – lives or dies on the strength of the songbook, not the plot. It would be hard to find a sillier plot than Mamma Mia's and there is none to Thriller, but their strings of great songs carry them.
Writer Katori Hall's book for Tina – a race through Tina Turner's life – has little to tell true fans that they don't already know, and is too generic to fascinate others.
Small town girl with big voice meets ambitious musician Ike Turner, who makes her a star. But Ike is violent and abusive, and Tina escapes him only to spend a decade in the wilderness (defined as a second-string Las Vegas hotel stage) before finding a new manager, repertoire, fan base and stardom in Europe.
But that's enough to hang about two dozen Tina Turner songs on. Barring some incidental scene-changing music, the score is entirely made up of hit songs sung and recorded by Tina Turner during her long career.
About a third of them are integrated into the action, sometimes with awkward shoehorning – Nutbush City Limits somehow becomes a church hymn, Don't Turn Around is her grandmother's blessing when young Tina leaves home, We Don't Need Another Hero a reaction to her mother's death.
The rest are all presented as performances, in rehearsals or recording studios or onstage.
As Tina, Adrienne Warren delivers seemingly tireless energy (Well, perhaps not entirely tireless – there's an 'at certain performances' alternate so she doesn't have to do eight shows a week) that does much to carry the show, and sufficient acting ability to handle the darker plot turns.
Judged strictly as a Tina Turner tribute act, she is uneven, choosing a little too often to sing in her own voice and style. It is only with some of the big anthems – River Deep, Simply The Best, What's Love Got To Do With It – that she really sounds like Tina, and Warren doesn't fully let loose until the house-shaking post-curtain calls mini-concert.
Visually the imitation is much stronger. Thanks to choreographer Anthony Van Laast and the production's wigmakers and miniskirt designers, the big performance numbers with Tina and her back-up singers look exactly right and capture a lot of the excitement of the real thing.
There is probably an interesting story in Ike Turner, but this isn't his show, and Kobna Holdbrook-Smith must settle for playing standard-issue abusive husband. The raced-through plot doesn't give anyone else much opportunity to make an impression.
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