TINA: THE TINA TURNER MUSICAL | London, Aldwych Theatre

The last big show at the Aldwych Theatre was incredibly similar, Beautiful: The Carole King Musical, and suffered from being too anodyne; neither true to life nor theatrical. But for all the formulaic similarities, this new jukebox musical about the rise (and fall, and rise) of Tina Turner is both true to life and intensely theatrical. With a killer set list that’s “Simply The Best”, the musical embraces the wretchedness of Turner’s early life and the people around her, as well as her inner fire, Buddhism and ancestor worship.

Director Phyllida Lloyd (Mamma Mia!; The Iron Lady) puts most of the action on an empty stage (a large wooden platform), which allows the story to rocket along without set getting in the way. Psychedelic video designs (Jeff Sugg), realistic soundscapes (Nevin Steinberg) and a few gliding set pieces (Mark Thompson) fill in the blanks when necessary.

The empty stage also allows us to focus on Broadway’s Adrienne Warren (Dreamgirls), who embodies the Nutbush singer’s charisma and inimitable voice, in a remarkable performance. It is, however, a strange decision to cast such a young actress, when Turner is forty years old for most of the show. Perhaps even more remarkable is Kobna Holdbrook-Smith (Hamlet, with Benedict Cumberbatch) as abusive control-freak Ike Turner.

The book (Katori Hall, with Frank Ketelaar and Kees Prins) omits Turner’s award-winning film career (The Who’s Tommy; Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome) and many other milestones, but makes room for a lengthy, dancing-in-the-aisles, mini Turner tribute concert finale. Like Beautiful, this latest West End jukebox bio-musical can seem a bit formulaic and commercial, but there’s no denying it’s a smash hit.

Sold out, but try the £15 ticket lottery.

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