Monday, 27 May 2019

TINA – The Tina Turner Musical | Aldwych Theatre

It’s no secret that jukebox musicals sell. Pluck out a well-known artist, throw in their top hits, add the plot of their rise to success - marketed as the untold true story, of course - and you have yourself a success. Right? 

TINA, based on the life and music of the acclaimed Queen of Rock’n’Roll, opened with its worldwide debut in the West End just over a year ago to mixed reviews from the critics, three Olivier nominations and a whole lot of positive word-of-mouth. A huge amount of the buzz around TINA championed Adrienne Warren, who originated the titular role, and is set to reprise the role as the show opens on Broadway later this year. With big thanks to London Box Office for providing tickets, I finally headed to Aldwych Theatre to see what the fuss was all about.

There’s no denying that Tina Turner’s life is a story worth telling. She’s had an inspirational but deeply difficult journey. From a childhood dominated by a violent father and a mother who abandoned her, to years of domestic abuse from her husband and renowned musician, Ike Turner, while battling with racism, sexism and ageism to get her voice heard, the musical – quite swiftly – covers it all. 

It’s a classic example of where the jukebox format fails to do justice to the artist in question. Such a tough life mashed into and around her most celebrated music doesn’t allow the space to respectfully or effectively carry Turner’s story. The show’s most sour moments, which should be difficult to swallow, instead feel brashly stuffed into gaps between songs. 

Nkeki Obi-Melekwe has done an excellent job stepping into the shoes Adrienne Warren left behind. From naïve and often blundering youth, to rising star; from her emotionally-damaged days, to her worldly and sharp concluding demeanour, Obi-Melekwe’s mannerisms are incessantly captivating. With a 145-minute cycle of some of the most challenging songs written for the female voice, her vocal prowess is unflinching. It is just a shame that the balance between instruments and voice seems to favour a merged sound, rather than giving Obi-Melekwe a foundation over which to soar.

To critique the score would be a pointless exercise, but it is difficult to enjoy the music when it repeatedly feels so oddly and uncomfortably placed. Although Anthony Van Laast’s playful choreography and the energy of the cast just about save the bigger numbers, leading to a concert-esque finish that demands the audience on their feet.

While it has some redeemable elements, TINA feels like a real waste of such a strong story and collection of songs. It’s a box-ticking sweep of Turner’s life events, rather than a genuine exploration of a troubling story of a remarkable talent.

TINA – The Tina Turner Musical is booking until January 2020.

*This was a press/review ticket, but all words and opinions are my own.

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