Aldwych Theatre, London
Mamma Mia! has a lot to answer for. The jukebox musical is clearly the legacy project that people are looking to once music stars have retired or disbanded (or not even then, in some cases). But whether they take a fictional route (a la Viva Forever or Son of a Preacher Man) or go bio-musical (a la All Or Nothing), it really isn’t easy to make it work that well.
Newly opened at the Aldwych Theatre, Tina the Musical has the credentials to make you hope it can do just that. Directed by Mamma Mia’s Phyllida Lloyd, written by Olivier winner Katori Hall with Frank Ketelaar and Kees Prins, and with the almighty back catalogue of Tina Turner to call on, there’s a thrilling sense of energy here which is perfectly encapsulated in the star-making performance of a fricking amazing Adrienne Warren.
She’s phenomenal as she traces the development of Tennessee native Anna Mae Bullock into all-out megastar Tina Turner, accompanied by a score that varies from pure performance to contrived narrative (a la The Bodyguard). And it is a mixture that actually works, Ethan Popp’s orchestrations and Nicholas Skilbeck’s musical supervision making these classics sound a treat.
The issues that Tina has lie in the darkness and complexity of the life story being told. This format doesn’t lend itself well to nuance and so the treatment of the considerable parental and domestic violence sits a little oddly here. From father to husband, Turner put up with a hell of a lot in her life and we’re not offered any insight into why. (One wonders what impact her association with this project had here, and also with some of the unnecessary detailing later on in the plot).
Thus it can feel a little hard to enjoy Tina unproblematically, to soak up the joy of Anthony van Laast’s choreography or the revolving set and period-perfect costume designs by Mark Thompson. Kobna Holdbrook-Smith makes a decent fist of deepening our understanding of the violent Ike, and Aisha Jawando and Madeline Appiah do their best with the underwritten parts of Tina’s sister and mother. Simply the best? Not quite, though Adrienne Warren’s performance makes it worth the while.