If you aim to embody the indomitable spirit of a beloved subject named not once but twice in the title of her celebratory bio-musical, you better be up to the challenge. Adrienne Warren has what it takes, and then some - the powerhouse voice, the jackhammer legs, the wild dance moves, and above all, the heart - to carry Tina: The Tina Turner Musical across the rough patches of its clunky book and uneven direction. This grit-and-glitter production is neither the best nor the worst (RIP, Donna Summer) of the ongoing wave of musical biographies, but the sensational lead performance that drives pretty much every scene is not to be missed.
TINA: THE TINA TURNER MUSICAL Broadway Reviews
From humble beginnings in Nutbush, Tennessee, to her transformation into the global Queen of Rock 'n' Roll, Tina Turner didn't just break the rules, she rewrote them. This new stage musical, presented in association with Tina Turner herself, reveals the untold story of a woman who dared to defy the bounds of her age, gender and race.
TINA - THE Tina Turner MUSICAL received its world premiere in April 2018 in London, where it opened to five-star reviews and has broken box office records at the Aldwych Theatre. The West End production is now booking through June 27, 2020. A German production also opened in Spring 2019 at Stage Operettenhaus in Hamburg and is now booking through August 30, 2020.
"Now, that's what I call a Broadway show!" That's what the stranger sitting next to me at the Lunt-Fontanne Theater yelled into my ear at the roof-raising finale of "Tina: The Tina Turner Musical." I'd say he nailed it. Call "Tina" a jukebox musical or a bio-musical or anything you want to call it, but above all, this is one fine specimen in the best showbiz tradition of the Great Big Broadway Musical. The music is fantastic, the staging is deluxe, the central figure is a cultural icon and the lead performer, Adrienne Warren, is sensational.
The impersonation itself isn't perfect. After a run of scenes speaking in Turner's distinctive voice, Warren sometimes sounds like she's lapsing into "cartoon old lady" instead of Turner's sandy rasp. But who cares? It's never a barrier, and it's all forgotten the moment she sings. Director Phyllida Lloyd has built long, multiscene sequences in Tina that crash like waves, massive song after mammoth hit after monster performance. Warren doesn't bear up under them-she rises up and smashes down too. She's gigantic. She's tidal.
BWW Review: Tina Turner's The Legend and Adrienne Warren's The Breakout Star in TINA: THE TINA TURNER MUSICAL
This reviewer, who came in with just a passing familiarity with Tina Turner's career, was impressed with the overall slick professionalism of a production that aggressively entertains while telling its story with humor and dramatic finesse. My guest, a passionate Tina Turner fan, seemed overwhelmed with joy. We both can't wait to see what Adrienne Warren has in store next.
BUSINESS BREAKING NEWS ‘Tina – The Tina Turner Musical’ Review: Love For Broadway’s Newest Star’s Got A Lot To Do With It
Better than Broadway's reigning, mostly enjoyable and definitely money-making example of the genre - the Temptations biomusical Ain't Too Proud - Tina, directed by Phyllida Lloyd and crammed with one recognizable song after another from Turner's five-decade career, opens with one of the best scene-setters I've encountered in a genre that usually leaves me cold, and ends with a mini-concert finale that for sheer out-of-your-seat excitement blows away any Broadway challenger.
Perhaps I was mistaken. Tina: The Tina Turner Musical has arrived after smacking London in the gob. It's not at all a lousy show, but Adrienne Warren's performance in the title role has the roaring lift of a helicopter taking flight and the dazzling sparkle of a hundred chandeliers, making Tina a musical not to miss. I came out of the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre feeling as though I'd just seen Serena Williams on center court, Simone Biles on the balance beam and Bessie Smith singing "Downhearted Blues," all rolled into one mesmerizing package. Yes, Warren is that good. You will remember her name.
Tina, which opened tonight at the Lunt-Fontanne, is, surprisingly, pretty good. Warren, its star, is spectacular. She sings beautifully and she dances ecstatically. She nails that raspy, growling, wide-vowelled Tina voice. (There is, one notices, something a little Cher-y about Tina's drawl.) And she does the whole thing with a focused ferocity that demonstrates how little Anna Mae Bullock could grow up to a legend. Warren's "River Deep-Mountain High," late in Act One, makes you stop, take notice, and settle in for whatever else she has to offer.
But let's be real: You come to "Tina" for the songs. Director Phyllida Lloyd ("Mamma Mia!") stages them smoothly, with vibrant pops of color that ripple off the shimmering fringe of Mark Thompson's costumes. And all of them - including "I Can't Stand the Rain," "Private Dancer" and "We Don't Need Another Hero" - sound glorious. During the exuberant final concert, Warren isn't just rolling on the river: She's stampeding through Broadway.
There is Tina Turner's music, of course, which is a big improvement on Cher or Summer's. In Act 1, Warren doesn't sound as if she quite has the chops; her vocals are a little too genteel, but that's only an illusion. By the time she delivers "Private Dancer," this actor-singer captures the most expressive bray ever heard from a human being. Phyllida Lloyd has been acclaimed for her all-female stagings of Shakespeare. With "Tina," she returns to being the plodding director of "Mamma Mia!" Lloyd shows just how difficult it is to make a musical number work when it begins, ends or is interrupted with Ike punching Tina. Much of "Tina" takes place in the 1960s and '70s. Even so, that's no excuse to have so many Lava Lamp projections (by Jeff Sugg) in one show. It's Broadway, not someone's basement.
But as director Phyllida Lloyd (who helmed Mamma Mia! in both its stage and film versions) careens through the play's paces - from a pint-size Anna Mae Bullock's beginnings in Nutbush, Tennessee to her fateful meeting as a teenager in St. Louis with the man who would mold and rename her, on through their tumultuous union and her unlikely break into solo stardom in her mid-40s - pretty much every note of nuance is lost in the razzle-dazzle rush.
Warren - not yet a huge name but an accomplished actor who earned a Tony nom for 2016's Shuffle Along - is absolutely stunning in the titular role. Over the course of two-and-a-half hours, Warren is captivating, bringing the audience along as she goes through the incredible highs and horrifying lows of Turner's life, from poverty to the complexities of her abusive relationship with Ike Turner to her London comeback and tour domination. Warren is doing both an incredible imitation of Tina (those dance moves! that big voice!) as well as making it her own, forging an intense connection with the audience that makes you want to stand up and shake a tailfeather (and, to be clear, many do at certain big moments of the show).
With jukebox musicals seeming to dominate the Broadway landscape, it makes perfect sense to add Tina Turner's story to the mix. On so many levels, hers is ripe with the kind of soul-stirring drama that hits on so many levels - innocence lost, incomparable talent, horrendous abuse, family dysfunction and triumph over adversity. Like so many others, though, the on stage story-telling is mostly formulaic. But fortunately, with Adrienne Warren in the title role, this one has at least one element that lets it stand better than almost all the rest.
More important, as far as pure entertainment is concerned, this story comes with songs that can thrill an audience when rendered as Turner sang them; at this, the musical "Tina," directed by Phyllida Lloyd, happily succeeds. In a performance that is part possession, part workout and part wig, Adrienne Warren rocks the rafters and dissolves your doubts about anyone daring to step into the diva's high heels.
Directed by Phyllida Lloyd, who more or less launched the jukebox musical phenomenon with "Mamma Mia!", the production is related muted, with emphasis placed on the character drama. The ensemble does little besides adding back-up singing and functions like window dressing. The full expanse of the stage is also concealed until the very end.
Foremost, there is Warren, who delivers a performance of superhuman stamina and skill. She's more tightly controlled than the real-life Turner; her movement is sharper, her vocals less raspy, and she barely seems to break a sweat. But she makes the part her own. During the mini-concert that ends the show, in Turner's trademark punk-lioness hair-free from the burden of narrative, and backed by an onstage band-Warren struts with earned confidence. The audience by then is on its feet, and at hers. She has risen.
The musical leans a little too heavily on the "charm" part of Ike; one of rock's greatest villains feels more like a cartoonish Sixties eccentric in this light, and Watts seems to be doing an impression of Eddie Murphy doing an impression of Ike Turner throughout his performance. While we get a firm sense of Ike's ego - the fear of being forgotten by everyone is never lost in the fabric of his story - his id feels not only superficial but paper thin.
About 35 minutes into Tina: The Tina Turner Musical, I began to feel very protective toward the title subject. I battled the urge to jump onto the Lunt-Fontanne stage and angrily defend Tina from all the torture and humiliation going on. Call it patriarchal, call it white saviorism, but I found the great singer's treatment despicable. And I don't mean the years of physical and emotional abuse Tina suffered at the hands of husband and bandmate Ike Turner. No, the comeback queen of rock and the phenomenal actress playing her-Adrienne Warren-were trapped in a needlessly shoddy, demoralizing dud.
Having been lucky enough to catch Tina Turner in concert before she essentially retired from touring, I can report that Tina, for all its huffing and puffing, doesn't capture the force of nature she was in live performance. That's not a criticism of Warren; it's just a reminder that a better, truer and generally less expensive way to appreciate our favorite artists is through their own work. Though if Tina were to lead a few uninitiated audience members to Turner's, I'd be the first to stand up and cheer.