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A CurtainUp London Review

" What's love got to do, got to do with it
What's love but a sweet old fashioned notion
What's love got to do, got to do with it
Who needs a heart when a heart can be broken ."
— Lyric
Adrienne Warren as Tina Turner (Photo: Manuel Harlan)
Some of Tina Turner's life story is not news to us, as her 1986 autobiography "I, Tina" generated considerable publicity about her abusive relationship with her husband Ike. She met him in 1956, married him in1962 and left him in 1976. But is domestic abuse something to hang a feel-good musical on?

In fact, the abuse goes back much further than her marriage — so often history repeats itself. Tina was born Anna-Mae Bullock in Nutbush, Tennessee and the opening scene in Tina is set in a Southern gospel church, chairs assembled out of doors and in the background a dead tree, with an old rope hanging from it. The rope is of course an allusion to the lynchings that victimised the African American community in the South so we have the shadow of racism and oppression that Tina will battle later. Tina's mother Zelma Bullock left Tina's preacher father Richard (Natey Jones) because of domestic abuse and took with her Anna-Mae's elder sister Alline. Richard Bullock remarried and left ten year old Anna-Mae to be cared for by her grandmother until, she was 15 and able to earn, and her mother in St. Louis sent for her. Anna-Mae's (Claudia Elie) singing talent manifests itself as so many did, in singing in church.

Under her elder sister Alline's (Aisha Jawando) tutelage, Anna-Mae mixes with these sophisticated fashion conscious, city girls and she is invited along with many others to sing a trial with Ike Turner (Kobna Holdbrook-Smith) at the Club Manhattan. But she is exceptional! Ike Turner is immediately impressed with her magnificent voice and Little Ann as she is known is asked to be the first female member of his band. 1960 sees the start of the Ike and Tina Turner Revue and Anna-Mae is renamed Tina Turner by Ike.

As an adult Adrienne Warren takes over the role of Tina with such aplomb and brilliant, belt 'em out singing that she has to be number one choice for best female performance in a musical even at this really early stage in the Olivier year. Warren is almost never off stage and her incredible energy and dedication provoke a jaw dropping reaction. With numerous fast costume and wig changes she is outstanding. She also can act and gives us exuberance and joy as well as times when Tina was desperate for help to escape.

I feel Katori Hall's script didn't allow the excellent Kobna Holdbrook-Smith's Ike to be anything except a serial womaniser, a wife beater and someone who hits children and supplies drugs. However we know that Ike adopted Tina's love child Craig she had at 18 with Raymond Hill the saxophonist (Natey Jones) and that credit must be due to Ike for his early composition of rhythm and blues songs before they became mainstream with the likes of Elvis Presley. I was genuinely moved by Ike's "Be Tender With Me Baby" as he asks Tina to stay with him. But this is Tina's story written by her and credit can't be given to Ike. The scenes of domestic violence are very uncomfortable viewing.

The show follows Tina's difficulties using some of her back list to illustrate crisis points as she struggles to get back into the limelight with credit being given to a white manager Roger Davies (Ryan O'Donnell) and Tina's now husband, German Erwin Bach (Gerard McCarthy).

I liked the period choreography alongside Tina's famous songs and the set has lights a plenty with costumes full of colour and spangle. Ike's hair moves through controlled slicked back, Beatles mop and big Afro. Phil Spector (Tom Godwin) coaches Tina until she masters "River Deep, Mountain High" and crowd pleasers like "What's Love Got To Do With It?" and "Simply the Best" will thrill the audience who are there for the recreation of Tina Turner in live performance.
Musical Numbers
In Alphabetical Order
  • A Fool In Love
  • Better Be Good To Me
  • Be Tender With Me Baby
  • Disco Inferno
  • Don't Turn Around
  • Higher
  • The Hunter
  • I Can't Stand The Rain
  • I Don't Want To Fight
  • It's Gonna Work Out Fine
  • Let's Stay Together
  • Matchbox
  • Nutbush City Limits
  • Open Arms
  • Private Dancer
  • Proud Mary
  • River Deep, Mountain High
  • Shake A Tailfeather
  • Simply The Best
  • Sound Of Mystic Law
  • Tonight
  • We Don't Need Another Hero
  • What's Love Got To Do With It

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Book by Katori Hall, Frank Ketelaar and Kees Prins
From the music of Tina Turner
Directed by Phillida Lloyd
Starring: Adrienne Warren, Kobna Holdbrook-Smith, Madeleine Appiah, Jenny Fitzpatrick, Lorna Gayle, Tom Godwin, Francesca Jackson, Aisha Jawando, Natey Jones, Gerard McCarthy, Ryan O'Donnell, Tsemaye Bob-Egbe, Perola Congo, Keisher Downie, Kit Esuruoso, Sia Kiwa.
With: Kayleigh McKnight, Jammy Kasongo, Jason Langley, Baker MukasaDerek Aidoo, Gavin Alex, Candace Furbert, Edward Bourne, Hannah Jay-Allan, Rodney Vubya
Children: Athea Andi, Nicole Dube, Claudia Elie, Rohan Beckford, Arianna Duffus, Serena Mukuna, Reya-Nyomi Brown, Caelan Edie, Khylan St Paul Mark
Design: Mark Thompson
Choreographer: Anthony van Last
Musical Supervisor, Arrangements and Additional Music: Nicholas Skilbeck
Fight Director: Kate Waters
Musical Director: Tom Kelly
Projection Design: Jeff Sugg
Orchestrations: Ethan Popp
Sound Design: Nevin Steinberg
Lighting Design: Bruno Poet
Running time: Two hours 40 minutes with one interval
Box Office: 0845 200 7981
Booking to 16th February 2019
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 18th March 2018 performance at the Aldwych Theatre, 49 Aldwych, London WC2 4DF (Tube: Charing Cross/Temple/Holborn)
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