At this point, I’ve seen a lot of biopic musicals. So when Tina: The Tina Turner Musical opens with the star at a concert then cuts to her childhood, my immediate thoughts were that I’ve seen this before. However, what sets this biopic musical apart is the life of the star which it centres around. This musical is an unfiltered look at all that Tina has been able to achieve despite what she’s had to endure. By the concert finale, you are left with a sense of admiration for Tina and how she’s managed all that life has thrown at her.
Tina Turner, born as Anna Mae Bullock in Nutbush Tennessee, grew up in segregated America and has risen to be the ‘Queen of Rock ‘n’ Roll’. She is instantly recognisable for that powerhouse voice and for her dynamic hairstyles. Having sold more than 200 million records worldwide, she is one of the best-selling recording artists of all time. Some of her hit tunes include ‘Simply the Best’, ‘River Deep – Mountain High’ and ‘Proud Mary’. It’s a no-brainer why her life has been chosen to be the subject of a musical.
This musical took a risk in presenting a non-sugar coated portrayal of Tina’s life. It packs in the difficulties she faced such as the abandonment she suffered as a child, the abuse at the hands of her erratic husband, Ike Turner, right through to when she tries to makes a comeback in her forties as a solo artist and faces racism and age discrimination. To put it lightly, this is not a fun musical tribute act.
Where biopic musicals usually run into trouble is the coherence of their book in trying to squeeze in the life and career of an icon, yes Donna Summer the Musical – I’m referring to you. Although this show, with book by Katori Hall, Victoria Chau and Kees Prins may not win any awards, it holds together comparatively well.
Adrienne Warren left big shoes to fill when she originated the role in the West End to rave reviews. Her replacement, Nkeki Obi-Melekwe has gallantly taken the torch and carries the show on her shoulders. Ashley Zhangazha’s portrayal of Ike Turner is chilling. His frequent outbursts and short temper made the experience all the more harrowing to see.
I learnt that when Tina Turner would go to the hospital covered with bruises, the medical staff wouldn’t bat an eye-lid and assume that this was how African American men treated their wives. But it wasn’t just the physical abuse, Ike also denied Tina a wage and consequently economic freedom whilst they toured together. It’s clear that Ike had many demons of his own to battle within his life time. But the pertinent message of the show is that Tina was strong enough to achieve success without him. In the times we’re in, I think it’s a positive and important message to share.