She may be pushing 80 but legendary singer Tina Turner is the hottest ticket in town as Phyllida Lloyd's roof-raising new biographical musical Tina (Aldwych Theatre) proves, bringing the star's many great tunes back to glorious foot-stomping life, thanks to an astonishing central performance by Adrienne Warren.
The story begins in racist small-town Nutbush, Tennessee, where Tina – Anna Mae Bullock – was born, the unwanted daughter of poor black sharecroppers. From these humble beginnings among the cotton fields, we embark on a whirlwind tour of the star's life – violent dad, neglectful mum, discovered by singer-songwriter Ike, battered and bullied by him – escapes and struggles as a solo singer and single mum – with redemption and musical reinvention arriving in the form of Australian manager Roger Davies and eventual global stardom.
The show rests on the shoulders of the fabulous American star Adrienne Warren who is rarely off stage and displays a belter of a voice. She shows how Tina develops and changes as a singer, defying the bounds of age, gender and race and how in moving to rock stardom, she retains her ferocious energy while introducing notes of plangent melancholy. Warren also effortlessly conveys Tina's growth from stoical victim of Ike's cruelty into a woman of defiant confidence. On top of all that she dances up a storm, British actor Kobna Holdbrook-Smith transmits a constant threat as the coiled and abusive Ike. You may not like him, but you begin to understand him.
And then there are those classic songs, beginning with River Deep, Mountain High, quickly followed by Let's Stay Together, which centres on the furtive relationship between the fledgling star and her first love and father of her first child, saxophonist Raymond Hill. Later Can't Stand the Rain serves to reflect the sodden melancholy of early 80s London. Then we have the bombast of We Don't Need Another Hero (from Mad Max III) which carries a raw emotional charge, accompanied by a candle-lit procession snaking through the auditorium as Turner grieves for the mother who so coolly and cruelly abandoned her.
The evening reaches its climax with a 1988 concert in Rio de Janeiro in front of 188,000 fans, with our indomitable heroine casting her mind back to the prayers of her childhood, and finally rewarding her legion of fans (and us) with a full lights-blazing, lungs-bursting, deeply felt rendition of what I think is her best song, Simply the Best.
With an amazing command of power and finesse, Warren succeeds in bringing this American icon's life to full blazing glory and shows her celebration of triumph over adversity.
Plays at Aldwych Theatre until Saturday 16 February 2019.
Box office: 0845 200 7981
Photography: ©Manuel HarlanLast modified: April 6, 2021