Review – Tina, the Tina Turner musical ****

I have a general awareness of some of the more iconic Tina Turner songs. But I’m not really into her music to the extent I could name more than a handful at best. As for her back story – not a clue! That said, the pairing of ‘Ike and Tina Turner’ has a pleasing and memorable ring to it, even though, as it transpires, she would rather forget the Ike bit!

Tina – the Tina Turner Musical recently celebrated its first year in London with a cast change. Taking the lead is Nkeki Obi-Melekwe in her West End Debut after graduating in 2018 from Michigan University. She is remarkable. A hugely powerful performance, as physically energetic as it is vocally, she takes on a massive role and carries it off magnificently. As Ike Turner Ashley Zhangazha tackles a part which could easily become the pantomime villain but shows him as talented, passionate, flawed and weak. We pity him but we don’t hate him.

The show opens with the nine year old Tina (Athea Andi was just great, by the way), then simply Anna Mae Bullock, singing her heart out at church before witnessing the brutal treatment her preacher father delivers on his family when away from the congregation’s gaze. This scene is richly evocative and a most unusual and serious opening for a musical. It’s more like a play. This sombre tone pervades most of the show. Hers is a tough story and her career not an easy one.

But as the show progresses it reverts more to type, that type being the standard juke box musical. The pattern of a scene in a dressing room or hotel room followed by a song, followed by another scene, becomes a little worn across the evening. Clever use is made of the songs, though. Some are incorporated into the story and used as they would be in a conventional musical to develop plot and character. Others are treated as straightforward performance opportunities at a concert or in a recording studio. My only slight disappointment with the song selection was the omission of her Bond theme for Goldeneye – but I can see why it wouldn’t fit the show, even if they could have got the rights for it!

The show looks just great. There’s a slick, moving set, stunning video projection and the lighting is just spectacular. Crisp, subtle and atmospheric it sustains and improves not just the musical numbers but the dramatic scenes as well.

Sue in the Stalls attended courtesy of London Box Office.

Tina – the Tina Turner musical is at the Aldwych theatre, London.

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