There is a lesson about biographical works that can be learned by watching Steven Spielberg’s film Lincoln. It is delivered by Tony Kushner’s script, which deals with the great man’s life and times by homing in on one dramatic period.
The alternative is to do what playwright Katori Hall does for this bio-musical about Tina Turner, which is to arrange in chronological order all the major events in Turner’s life.
It’s like looking at a film told at silent movie speed. Not much time to dwell, or breathe or, more crucially,feel.
Still, under the direction of Phyllida Lloyd, who successfully directed Abba’s back catalogue as the musical Mamma Mia!, each milestone of Turner’s life is beautifully staged here, and the show has at its core an astonishing performance by its American star Adrienne Warren.
What it must have been like for her on press night with the real Tina watching from the stalls, one can only imagine. But Warren has her own fathom-deep pool of talent on which to draw. Tina’s voice is probably better than Warren’s and Warren’s dancing is probably better than Tina’s.
But where it counts, with such songs as River Deep, Mountain High— the Phil Spector-produced wall-of-sound classic that was a unbelievably a flop in the States when it was first released — Warren can generate a rasping power that raises both the roof and the hairs on the back of your neck.
Almost as brilliant is British actor Kobna Holdbrook-Smith who, as the coiled singer-songwriter Ike — the man who discovered Turner, made her the focus of his act, married her and then beat the hell out of her —transmits a merciless physical threat.
I’m more of an Aretha man than a Tina one. But I defy anyone to resist the impact of Warren’s Turner in full sail, belting out We Don’t Need Another Hero, I Can’t Stand the Rain, What’s Love Got To Do With It. And for those who missed Tina Turner throttle in the 1980s, this is a close as you will get to a performance.
Inevitably, the show delivers the gig that all Tina Turner's fans want to see. And when Warren belts out Simply The Best, even on this starry opening night, there was a genuine sense of awe for the talent on stage, and the woman in the stalls who inspired this show.