Tina the Musical has landed at the Aldwych Theatre and it was worth the wait. The production is directed by Phyllida Lloyd of Mamma Mia fame, a director who has been determined to make women the centre of the story. The story of Turner’s difficult childhood, dysfunctional and violent relationship with Ike and her comeback are well known, in part due to the amazing 1993 biopic What's Love Got to Do with It, which starred Angela Bassett as Tina and Laurence Fishburne as Ike (both were nominated for Academy Awards).
This is no screen to stage adaptation, firstly, this covers far more of Tina’s comeback than the film did and as a musical it makes some bold musical direction choices; the use of Tina’s version of 'Don’t Turn Around' (originally a B-Side to Typical Male in 1986) throws a bit of a curveball to audience who may know the Aswad and Ace of Base versions better. It features the standard classics; 'Nutbush', 'Proud Mary', 'What’s Love Got to do with It' (its origin scene is light-hearted and fun) and 'The Best' amongst others, though I am gutted there was no 'Goldeneye'.
The production is a linear look at Tina’s life from childhood, where her mother suffers from domestic violence and later on supports Ike over her own unwanted daughter, to her stadium comebacks following the success of her album Private Dancer. Adrienne Warren is a stunning find who, though new to London audiences has a solid background in Broadway, including a Tony nomination. She takes Tina from naïve wild child to a woman bringing herself back from poverty and destruction. Warren has a strong singing voice and I liked the fact she was no Turner impersonator but brought the soul, the pain and the strength to Tina’s output that we are familiar with.
The unsung hero is Kobna Holdbrook-Smith, known for his Laertes in Benedict Cumberbatch’s Barbican Theatre Hamlet he is also an associate at the National Theatre. His casting brought a gravitas to a hotly anticipated production but his performance is out of this world. Everyone will be talking about Warren as Tina so I want to talk about Holdbrook-Smith as Ike.
There is a lot riding on both performances, for those familiar with the film it is hard not to go in with comparisons to Bassett and Fishburne ready but as soon as both come on stage you forget about the film. Holdbrook-Smith is physically uncanny as Ike and just as intimidating; he isn’t played as a cartoon villain but as a complex man who values success and control at all costs; forcing his name on Tina, forcing his ideas on the band and slowly realising that he is nothing without Tina but using his energy to convince her she is nothing without him. There is a level of complexity rarely seen in musicals, this isn’t a feel-good production. It is brutal, it doesn’t hold back with violence or language and isn’t afraid to remind the audience that it took a long time for things to change. The racism and ageism faced by Tina in the 1980s feels more like a punch to the gut than the racism they experience in 1960s Mississippi.
At the end, the audience are rewarded with a small Tina concert and Adrienne Warren deserves all the Oliviers next year for her energy, warmth and empathetic performance. Tina isn’t a victim, she’s a star and so are Warren and Holdbrook-Smith.
Tina the musical is currently booking until 16 February 2019. You can book your tickets here.
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